Thinspiration from the "Biggest Loser": Social Interactions in a Weight Loss Program

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Authors: Uetake, K., Yang, N.

Abstract: 

We investigate the role that peer effects play in healthy and sustainable lifestyles. In particular, we study the impact of peer success on weight loss outcomes and participant retention in a large national weight loss program. In our setting, peer groups are defined based on frequent meetings among weight loss participants, whereby meeting attendance varies at a very high frequency across weeks and locations. We analyze a large database with over 10 million observations about individual meeting attendance and weight loss progress using dynamic panel data methods. Our key finding is that while higher average weight loss among peers leads to lower future weight loss, the effect of the top weight loss performer (i.e., "Biggest Loser") among peers leads to greater future weight loss. Furthermore, we found that retention improves with the "Biggest Loser". Finally, we demonstrate through counterfactual analysis that meetings can be designed and formed so as to improve the average customer's lifetime value (CLV) from meeting fees.

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