Are your friends, siblings and spouse the reason you are overweight? It would be nice for a lot of people to blame others for their large waistline. A study entitled “The Spread of Obesity in a Large Social Network over 32 Years” published in the New England Journal of Medicine could shed some light on this.
Nicholas Christakis of Harvard University and James Fowler of the University of California, analyzed the records of 12,067 participants in the Framingham Heart Study spanning 32 years. The Framingham Heart Study followed the health of residents of a small Massachusetts town and their offspring every four years since 1948.
The participants listed their spouse, family members and closest friends at each follow-up. More than 70% of those listed by the participants were also included in the study. What the researchers found was concrete evidence of overweight/obese friends congregating in clusters.
The following interesting correlations were found in the study;
- Adult Siblings – If one sibling became obese, the chance of the other sibling becoming obese increased by 40%. This increased to 55% if the siblings were of the same gender.
- Spouse – If one spouse became obese, the likelihood that the other spouse becoming obese increased by 37%
- Mutual friends – Those with the highest risk are the ones who considered each other to be good friends. If one friend became obese, the risk for the other increased a whopping 171%.
- Neighbors – There was no risk of obesity if an immediate neighbor became obese since the influence only exists if there is a relationship between the two.
The surprising find was that even hundreds of miles did not decrease the risk of weight gain if one’s friend or sibling was obese. These shows what a strong effect one obese sibling or friend has on the other. Friends, siblings and especially a spouse have a very strong influence on the eating habits and lifestyle of another.
Someone’s body fat level would be approximately the average of the 5 people he or she most frequently hangs out with. If someone is not exercising, chances are very high that the 5 closest people in his or her life aren’t exercising either.
Most meetings with close friends or siblings have at least some meals included. Friends either meet each other over a beer, a coffee, lunch, dinner, party, etc. The eating habits of one can subtly influence another. Your friends may influence you to drink more alcohol than your weight loss efforts would allow. You may be consuming cakes/donuts/desserts or even a calorie filled latte during your casual outings. Or you may have friends who cannot understand why you need to lose any more weight if they are not doing anything about it themselves. These people continuously tempt you with food that your weight loss program cannot afford.
The effect of a spouse is even stronger as this is the person that you live with day in and day out. On the flip side, having a weight conscious friend, sibling or spouse could have a positive effect on your own weight loss efforts. Birds of a feather flock together. If someone is serious about weight loss, and friends or siblings are not helping, it may be wise to probably consider keeping away from them until the weight loss goals have been achieved. Off course one can’t avoid his or her spouse. A spouse can be a solid rock of support or the biggest saboteur. Either way, it make a lot of sense to get one’s spouse on his or her side.
The biggest challenge would be when your goals are not aligned with your spouse’s. In this case, it may make sense to at least support the weight loss initiative if he or she does not want to be a part of it. Speak to your spouse and tell him or her what you expect and how he or she can help.
So finally you CAN blame your large waistline on your friends. The flip side is that you can also find friends who will encourage and motivate you to reduce your waistline. The choice ultimately is yours.