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Open Access Research article

Peer clustering of exercise and eating behaviours among young adults in Sweden: a cross-sectional study of egocentric network data

Kieron J Barclay1*, Christofer Edling2 and Jens Rydgren1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Sociology, Stockholm University, Stockholm, Sweden

2 Department of Sociology, Lund University, Lund, Sweden

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BMC Public Health 2013, 13:784  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-13-784

Published: 28 August 2013

Abstract

Background

Research suggests that the growing prevalence of obesity may be related to the influence of the health behaviours of peers. We look at clustering of exercise and eating behaviours amongst a previously unstudied group, young adults in Sweden. Previous research has mainly been conducted in the United States and Britain, countries that have relatively high rates of obesity.

Methods

Using ego-alter dyads from the egocentric network data as the unit of analysis, we conduct logistic regressions to investigate the association between ego and alter exercise and eating behaviours.

Results

Respondents have a significantly greater probability of engaging in regular exercise and eating healthily if a nominated peer also does so. Furthermore, the degree to which this behavior is shared is modulated by the strength of the relationship between the two individuals, with a greater probability of engaging in these behaviours observed when the relationship with the nominated peer is strong relative to when the relationship is weak. However, we find that ego-alter homogeneity in terms of gender and migration status was not associated with a significantly greater probability of behaving in a similar manner to a nominated peer. Furthermore, the status of the nominated peer as a relative or not did not impact the probability that the ego would engage in similar health behaviours to that alter.

Conclusions

We observe strong associations between ego and alter health behaviours for young adults, consistent with previous research. Although we cannot draw causal inferences, these results suggest that the health behaviours of an individual’s peers may play a role in shaping their own health behaviours.

Keywords:
Social networks; Egocentric data; Social clustering of health behaviours