Background: College freshmen are exposed to a variety of environmental and social factors that can alter changes to health habits and encourage weight gain. Weight-related conversations had with friends may be related to self-perception of weight and alterations to health behaviors, but this association has yet to be assessed in the college population.
Objective: This study aims to examine the relationship between friend advice about weight management, self-perception of weight, and alterations to weight change intentions, physical activity, and eating habits in college freshmen over time.
Methods: College freshmen from ASU with complete data for three time points (n=321) were found to be predominantly female (72.2%) and non-white (53.2%) with a mean age of 17.5±41. Complete data included responses for items included in analysis which were related to friend encouragement about weigh management, self-perception of weight, physical activity, eating behaviors, and weight change intentions. A longitudinal multivariate mediation analysis using negative binomial regression adjusted for sociodemographics and clustering by dorm was used to assess the relationship between 1) friend encouragement about weight management at time 1 and behavioral outcomes at time 3, 2) friend encouragement about weight management at time 1 and self-perception of weight at time 2, and 3) self-perception of weight at time 2 and behavioral outcomes at time 3.
Results: A small proportion of population perceived friend encouragement about weight loss (18.3%) and weight gain (14.4%) at time 1. Half the population (50.9%) had the self-perception of overweight at time 2. At time 3, more than half (54.3%) of individuals performed at least 60 minutes of MVPA and consumed at least ½ a serving of sugar-sweetened beverages each day, while nearly half (48.6%) consumed at least 2 servings of fruits and vegetables each day. Males perceived more friend encouragement to gain weight (27.4%; p<0.01), but more females had the self-perception of overweight (54%; p=0.04) and were attempting to lose weight (59.3%; p<0.01). Individuals who perceived friend encouragement to lose weight at time 1 had a 14.8% greater prevalence (p<0.001) of overweight perception of time two, and a 9.6% and 6.9%; decreased prevalence (p<0.001) of weight change and weight loss intentions (p=0.023) at time three respectively. Individuals who perceived friend encouragement to gain weight had a 34.9% decreased prevalence of (p<0.001) of self-perception of overweight at time 1. In individuals with the self-perception of overweight at time 2, there was a 18.1% increased prevalence (p<0.001) of consuming at least ½ a serving of sugar-sweetened beverages/day and an increased prevalence of 22.8% and 24.0% for weight change intentions and weight loss intentions at time 3 (p<0.001).
Conclusion: These findings suggest that there was not a mediation effect of self-perception of overweight in the relationship between friend encouragement about weight management and behavioral outcomes in the current sample. However, the increased prevalence of overweight perception in individuals who perceived friend encouragement about weight management may inform future interventions to focus on how weight-related conversations with friends is related to overweight perception. More research about the relationship between weight-related conversations had with friends, self-perception of weight, and health behaviors is needed to confirm these findings.