Peer Contagion: Why I Wasn’t the Only ED Survivor From My High School

How Many People Have an Eating Disorder

Renae Nicole
7 min readDec 9, 2022


Eating Disorders Run in Packs: A Deep Dive into Peer Contagion Among Eating Disorder Patients

Off the top of my head, I can name three people from high school who had eating disorders. All girls and they all ran in my circle. Those were just the obvious ones, who knows how many more of my peers struggled with it.

My eating disorder started in my junior year during the winter. It wasn’t until senior year that I saw the same signs in my classmates — skipping meals, making excuses, etc. I hope I didn’t start a trend, but I might have.

The Research

Studies have shown that same-gender, mutual friends had a significant influence on body image, eating habits, and obesity and that 13.2% of adolescents will develop an eating disorder by the age of 20. So it stands to reason that eating disorders would arise among multiple girls in one school, while other schools wouldn’t see any cases.

The phenomenon is known as peer contagion. Peer contagion is defined as the influence a friend has on your behavior and emotions; it’s the transfer of bad behavior from one person to another under the guise of friendship. For example, if one person in the friend group shoplifts, the other people are more likely to steal merchandise. Likewise, if a junior in high school has anorexia, their closest friends will likely have it.

Why is that?

The research concludes the most prominent factors of peer contagion is self-regulation, structure, social rejection, and status.

Self-regulation, or self-control, is the control of oneself without external influence. It is acting in one’s interest, or it is to achieve specific goals. Individuals with more self-control are less likely to be influenced by their peers.

Teens in a structured environment with positive parental involvement have shown to have a significant effect on peer contagion. These adolescents are less likely to be influenced by their friends if they have more excellent parental monitoring.

Social rejection is when an individual is deliberately excluded from social events, friendships, or gatherings. Because of this dismissal, the individual is more likely to…



Renae Nicole

Certified Personal Trainer | Health Coach | Nutrition Coach | Worldview: Christianity