Partner influence in diet and exercise behaviors: Testing behavior modeling, social control, and normative body size

Brea Perry, Gabriele Ciciurkaite, Christy Freadreacea Brady, Justin Garcia

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations

Abstract

Previous research has documented social contagion in obesity and related health behaviors, but less is known about the social processes underlying these patterns. Focusing on married or cohabitating couples, we simultaneously explore three potential social mechanisms influencing obesity: normative body size, social control, and behavior modeling. We analyze the association between partner characteristics and the obesity-related health behaviors of focal respondents, comparing the effects of partners' body type, partners' attempts to manage respondents' eating behaviors, and partners' own health behaviors on respondents' health behaviors (physical activity, fruit and vegetable consumption, and fast food consumption). Data on 215 partners are extracted from a larger study of social mechanisms of obesity in family and community contexts conducted in 2011 in the United States. Negative binomial regression models indicate that partner behavior is significantly related to respondent behavior (p < .001), net of controls. These results are suggestive of a behavior modeling mechanism in obesity-related patterns of consumption and physical activity. In contrast, we find little support for the influence of normative body size or partner social control in this sample, though generalizations about the relevance of these processes may be inappropriate. These results underscore the importance of policies and interventions that target dyads and social groups, suggesting that adoption of exercise or diet modifications in one individual is likely to spread to others, creating a social environment characterized by mutual reinforcement of healthy behavior.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0169193
JournalPLoS ONE
Volume11
Issue number12
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 2016

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
� 2016 Perry et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
  • General

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