Evaluating potential behavioral mediators for increasing similarity in friends’ body size among college students

Irene Van Woerden, Daniel Hruschka, David R. Schaefer, Kimberly L. Fine, Meg Bruening

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


College students and their friends become more similar in weight status over time. However, it is unclear which mediators explain this relationship. Using validated survey measures of diet, physical activity, alcohol intake, sleep behaviors, mental health, and food security status, we take a comprehensive look at possible factors associated with excess weight gain that may explain friends’ convergence on body mass index (BMI), waist circumference, waist to hip ratio, and waist to height ratio over time. We use linear mixed models applied to a longitudinal dataset of first-year college students to examine whether these variables satisfy two criteria for potential candidate mediators of friends’ influence on anthropometrics-cross-sectional similarity among friends (n = 509) and longitudinal associations with increasing anthropometrics (n = 428). While friends were similar on some survey measures (such as dining hall use, home cooked meal consumption, fruit intake, alcohol intake, hours of sleep, and stress). Only dining hall use and stress emerged as potential explanations for why friends’ BMI and anthropometric change may be similar. Given that only a few variables satisfied the two criteria as potential mediators, future research may need to consider alternative measurement approaches, including real-time assessments, objective measurements, and alternative factors causing the convergence of friends’ and college students’ body size over time.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number1996
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Food Science
  • Nutrition and Dietetics


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