The Moderating Effects of Organized Activities on the Relations between Body Mass and Social Adjustment in Adolescents

By Stanley, Christopher T.; Bohnert, Amy M. | North American Journal of Psychology, June 2011 | Go to article overview

The Moderating Effects of Organized Activities on the Relations between Body Mass and Social Adjustment in Adolescents


Stanley, Christopher T., Bohnert, Amy M., North American Journal of Psychology


Adolescence is marked by a myriad of bio-psychosocial shifts, including rapid physical changes, emotional and cognitive maturation, and enhanced sensitivity to peer relations (Newman & Newman, 2003). In addition, weight gain associated with puberty may impact on physical and social adjustment. Recent investigations have reported that among children aged 6 -19, 31% were classified as overweight, while 16% were already obese (Barlow, 2007; Hedley, Ogden, Johnson, Carroll, Curtin, & Flegal, 2004). Moreover, the pervasiveness of overweight and obese children and adolescents has been growing over recent decades, and this trend is expected to continue (Lobstein & Wang, 2006). In addition to adverse health consequences (e.g., Zametkin, Zoon, Klein, & Munson, 2004), excess weight may have social implications. Overweight and obese adolescents may become targets for teasing, leading to isolation and loneliness (e.g., Pearce, Boergers, & Prinstein, 2002; Puhl & Brownell, 2001; Strauss & Pollack, 2003; Swami, et al., 2008; Young-Hyman, Schlundt, Herman-Wenderoth, & Bozylinski, 2003). Accordingly, we considered the relations between BMI and two forms of social adjustment relevant for adolescents: peer victimization and loneliness.

Peer victimization is characterized by acts intended to physically or socially harm another peer. To illustrate, victimizing behaviors may harm an individual physically (e.g., fighting) or use relationship status to inflict a social harm, such as excluding someone from social activities or spreading rumors (Prinstein, Boergers, & Vernberg, 2001). One study demonstrated that increases in body mass were associated with increases in physical victimization among adolescent males and relational victimization among females (Pearce et al., 2002). Similarly, a study examined body weight and peer relations in a pre-adolescent sample, reporting that those who were heavier experienced more teasing and less social acceptance than normal weight peers. In addition, researchers found that body weight was a significant predictor of social problems and aggressive behaviors for all adolescents (Young-Hyman et al., 2003). Thus, excess body weight may make some individuals an easy target for some types of victimizing behaviors. Intuitively, excess weight may also make some adolescents more prone to loneliness.

Few studies have investigated loneliness among overweight adolescents. However, one study revealed that overweight individuals were more likely to be socially isolated than normal weight peers. Moreover, overweight peers received significantly fewer friendship nominations than their normal weight peers (Strauss & Pollack, 2003). Another relevant study investigated weight bias among children and college freshman by having participants rank body profiles in the order of whom they would most like to associate. Results indicated the overweight profile was rated less favorably than all others, suggesting overweight adolescents may be less desirable companions than normal weight adolescents (Latnar & Stunkard, 2003). Overweight adolescents may find it difficult to form peer networks and adolescents with higher body mass may be more likely to experience loneliness as compared to normal weight peers. Together, loneliness and peer victimization may be important variables related to weight status. Along these lines, one recent study examining both of these variables demonstrated that when individuals were asked to judge silhouettes of varying body types, the overweight profiles were deemed to be characteristic of individuals that were lonelier and more likely to be teased (Swami et al., 2008). In the current study, we expected higher body mass would be associated with higher levels of loneliness and peer victimization. However, we also anticipated that certain aspects of organized activities would buffer the effect of body mass on social adjustment (i.e., peer victimization and loneliness) among adolescents. …

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