Links between Peer Relationships in Middle Childhood, Negative Affect and Social Connectedness in Early Adolescence, and BMI in Early Adulthood
Type of Degreethesis
Human Development and Family Studies
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Although it has been well documented that overweight and obese children and adolescents frequently experience difficulties in their peer relationships, significant gaps remain in the understanding of the long-term contributions of these peer difficulties to elevated weight status. Of interest in the current study was whether the three middle childhood peer domains of acceptance, victimization, and friendships make unique and/or overlapping contributions to body mass index (BMI) across young adulthood and if these associations hold while controlling for childhood weight status and sociodemographic factors frequently associated with elevated BMI. A second goal was to examine the potential mediating links of the relationship between childhood peer difficulties and adult BMI. Data were drawn from the prospective longitudinal Child Development Project (N = 585). Results revealed concurrent bivariate associations between childhood weight status and peer difficulties in all three domains. Furthermore, each peer domain significantly predicted BMI across young adulthood. Peer acceptance, however, emerged as a unique predictor of adult BMI while controlling for childhood weight status and sociodemographic factors with poor peer acceptance predicting elevated BMI across adulthood. Moreover, gender differences in the association between childhood peer difficulties and adult BMI were identified. Additionally, negative affect in early adolescence mediated the relationship between childhood victimization and adult BMI. Possible explanations for the current findings are discussed and recommendations for future research are provided.