New Weight Norm Research Published – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

New Weight Norm Research Published

A new article, co-authored by Professor of Sociology Wesley Perkins and Professor of Chemistry David Craig from Hobart and William Smith, and Jessica Perkins from the Department of Health Policy, Harvard University has been published in the current issue of Prevention Science. The article is titled “Misperception of Peer Weight Norms and Its Association with Overweight and Underweight Status Among Adolescents.” The study is based on data the authors collected from more than 40,000 secondary school students attending 40 middle and high schools in diverse regions of the United States.

The study demonstrates how students often substantially underestimate or overestimate the average body weight of same sex peers in their grade. The researchers also demonstrate how these misperceptions are highly predictive of personal underweight or overweight status based on percentile ranking of body mass, and how these perceptions of the norm are the strongest predictor of personal body mass compared to all other social and demographic characteristics of students.

This study’s findings replicate with a larger data base the pattern they also found and reported in a previously published study of youth in England. Perkins, Craig and Perkins have previously shown that misperceptions of peer norms are pervasive and predictive of personal problem behavior regarding alcohol and drug use, sugar sweetened beverage consumption, and bullying.

At the most recent American Public Health Association Meeting last fall in Boston the team presented research collected among U.S. adolescents demonstrating pervasive underestimates of existing peer support for the reporting of students who bring weapons to school. Students who underestimated peer support for reporting weapon carrying were much less likely to be personally willing to report weapons carrying by other students.

Perkins is a graduate of Purdue University, and he received his M.A., M. Div., M. Phil. and Ph.D. from Yale University. He is the author of dozens of journal articles and is editor of a book on the social norms approach to substance abuse prevention, and has been honored with national awards for his work in preventing alcohol and drug abuse in colleges and universities.

Craig is a graduate of California State University at Chico and received his Ph.D. from the University of California at Riverside. In addition to his teaching duties, Craig is principle investigator of a program of BAC research at HWS. He is a leader in interdisciplinary program development particularly in the integration of the sciences into programs focusing on health and wellness at both the college and secondary school levels and has published numerous publications and a recent film on this subject.

Perkins and Craig direct the Hobart and William Smith Colleges Alcohol Education Project that has received multiple awards from the U.S. Department of Education.