Social Circles Part 1: Habits are Contagious

Are you ready to make changes that will lead to a healthier mind and body? Yes? But are your friends and family? Before you set out on your destination to improve your health through diet and exercise, you MUST read this research-based post on how we are, in fact, the sum of our social circles.  This is a two-part series on why the company we keep affects our progress toward healthier living, and how we can get the support we need to negate social sabotage.

A Brief Look Back

As humans evolved, we depended on small groups of peers for survival. To be alone, whether abandoned, rejected or lost, often meant certain death. 

Aloneness is not just something that existed thousands of years ago. Today, modern medicine shows us that lonliness can still kill. When we are consistently lonely, our bodies inflammation levels go up and our immunity goes down. We get more chronic diseases and die at earlier ages. Aloneness is scary and difficult. It can be a “feeling” like when you order a salad while your family eats pizza. Or it can be very “real” like when you choose to go for a walk while your friends enjoy happy hour.

It is in our DNA to fight loneliness and protect ourselves from these situations. So it should really be no surprise that we mimic the behavior and choices of those who matter the most to us.

Habits are Contagious

Research shows that we are affected by the body composition, habits and lifestyles of those around us. If your friends and family are fitter and eat healthier, you’re more likely to be fitter and eat healthier. And sadly, the reverse is true, too. 

  • The weight of those closest to you may determine your own weight. Having a friend, and adult sibling or a spouse who is obese increases your own obesity risk by 57%, 40%, and 37% respectively.
  • Even your friends’ friends matter! Two degrees of separation between you and someone who is obese increases your own chances of being obese by 20%. (You don’t even have to have met them for this to be true!!!)
  • Each obese person you know is correlated with a .5% increase in the risk of obesity. 
  • Your weight is more influenced by people of your own gender. 
  • We change our habits to match those of our social group subconsciously – without even talking or thinking about it.
  • The amount you eat depends on who you are eating with as well as the size of the group you’re with. Eating with one, two, three, four, five, six and seven people is associated with a 33, 47, 58, 69, 70, 72, and 96 percent increase in calories consumed.
  • Your social network has a big impact on what you eat. People whose friends meet the guidelines for produce intake are more likely to eat at least five servings of fruit and vegetables per day.

The truth is it’s a lot easier to eat better and get more exercise when our social environments support our goals. In my next post we will talk about how to reduce peer pressure and get the social support we need to make our lifestyle goals a reality. Until then, keep in mind how you might be influencing your friends and family. Think about making changes that might inspire others to do the same!
Excerpts and research shared with written permission from Preciaion Nutrition.