In a recent class I facilitated, a member reminded me of the importance of our social network and its impact on our activity levels and weight. I thanked him for the valid commentary and recalled a Ted Talk I watched some time ago. It sounds crazy, but it’s true: the people we associate with can have a powerful effect on our behavior - for better or for worse.
Per Nicholas Christakis’s talk and research paper, the effects of our social network are vast – affecting our body weight and even our levels of happiness. Regarding body weight:
A person’s chances of becoming obese increased by 57% if he or she had a friend who became obese in a given interval. Among pairs of adult siblings, if one sibling became obese, the chance that the other would become obese increased by 40%. If one spouse became obese, the likelihood that the other spouse would become obese increased by 37%.
Christakis and his colleague even found that if your friend’s friends are obese your risk of obesity is 25% higher and if your friend’s friend’s friends are obese your risk is 10% higher. There is additional research that shows how our social environment can affect our physical activity and sedentary behaviors.
So how does this work? Many think that is due to the changes in our social norms - what an acceptable weight is, for example. Or perhaps our perception of our own risk of illness depends on the people around us. Either way, our social networks have value and as Christakis shared in his talk, the benefits of a connected life outweigh the costs. That being said, let’s take a step back and evaluate our social network, especially in our effort to Maintain No Gain. If you are surrounded by those who spend most of their time watching TV and eating out, maybe it’s time to expand your social network. Join Meetup.com to find a hiking group or book club. Sign up for a cooking class or intramural sports team in your community or seek out volunteer opportunities in your neighborhood to meet new friends. Can you share some other ways? I'd love to hear from you!
Hello and welcome! My name is Andrea Notch Mayzeles. I am a Certified Health Education Specialist, Mom, and Master of Public Health dedicated to the path of well-being. As a wellness professional I am committed to continued learning and am here to share research, recipes and musings on health, psychology, personal development, and parenting. I hope you enjoy!