That finding comes from a new study reported by the American Heart Association. The study’s results indicate that strong social networks, such as those among friends and relatives, help people lose weight and improve their overall health.
Are healthy habits contagious?
The study, undertaken by researchers in Kentucky, answers that question in the affirmative. The data showed that dieters who lost weight collectively with friends and family lost more weight and were likelier to achieve permanent results. Study organizers, working with a pool of 552 participants, assigned friends and family members into social groups of between two and eight people. The groups worked together to improve their health. Over the course of ten months, participants within social groups lost an average of six-and-one-half more pounds than solo dieters. The study also showed significant drops in blood pressure rates among those in social networks.
Perhaps most impressively, participants were able to maintain these health benefits for at least six months after the medical trial ended. The study, the first of its kind, is based on a “health contagion” model. The underlying concept asserts that when one person does things such as eat vegetables, exercise and properly control portions, it positively reinforces such healthy behavior among peers. These anti-obesity measures then become ingrained over time, leading to long-term lifestyle changes — and better overall health.
These conclusions certainly aren’t counter-intuitive. After all, Weight Watchers and other commercial organizations create social networks of their own, through group meetings and positive reinforcement from peers. Dieters may be more inclined to stay on track if they know a group weigh-in is imminent. It’s also human nature to want to emulate the success of others, so these group settings are a powerful motivator. We look to the success of others from our community to
But as strong as that motivation may be, a once or twice weekly meeting isn’t as strong a social network as one between close friends and family. Given the results of this study, those who wish to be in better shape may find that their most valuable resource has been right at home all along. We, at Let’s Talk Health, firmly believe in this method of maintaining good health. If anything, we deem it necessary to include friends or family on any major lifestyle change.