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Obesity (Silver Spring). 2015 Dec;23(12):2477-84. doi: 10.1002/oby.21201. Epub 2015 Oct 14.

Self-comparisons as motivators for healthy behavior.

Author information

1
Family Medicine and Public Health, School of Medicine, University of California San Diego, San Diego, California, USA.
2
Department of Sociology, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut, USA.
3
Department of Political Science, University of California San Diego, San Diego, California, USA.

Abstract

OBJECTIVE:

We explored whether individuals' comparison of themselves to their social contacts, specifically feeling fitter or thinner than friends, is a significant predictor of three weight-loss behaviors (dieting, reducing alcohol, exercising).

METHODS:

We used a longitudinal survey of a national sample of Americans (N = 20,373) to measure respondents' personal social networks and their self-comparisons to their social contacts at two annual waves.

RESULTS:

Participants who felt thinner than friends in Wave 1 had 1.16 lower odds of dieting in Wave 2. Those who felt fitter than friends in Wave 1 had 1.10 times higher odds of reducing alcohol and 1.18 times higher odds of exercising in Wave 2. We found that 20% of the relationship between feeling thin at baseline and subsequent dieting may be because feeling heavier than friends makes one want to lose weight. This same dynamic accounts for 25% of the relationship between feeling fit and dieting and 12% of the relationship between feeling thin and reducing alcohol.

CONCLUSIONS:

These results suggest that normative self-comparison with important others is a potentially salient determinant of obesity-related health behavior and appears to work differently depending upon the behavior. Interventions may benefit from exploiting social comparisons in targeted ways.

PMID:
26465785
DOI:
10.1002/oby.21201
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
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