The Weight Loss “Halo Effect”
It turns out that our friends influence more than just our taste in music, clothes, and fashion. In fact, they influence such life-altering behaviors as eating and exercise—which effect the length and quality of our lives. Our latest study, published in Obesity, showed that when we work together with the people in our social network, we’re more likely to achieve our health goals. Specifically, we exercise more and lose more weight. That’s the conclusion of Dr. Tricia Leahey, with whom I collaborated to study the outcomes of Shape Up Rhode Island, a statewide, social networking-based health intervention designed to improve the health of employees at participating companies across the state.
Our study, showing that healthy behaviors appear to spread from person to person, has gone viral, appearing across the globe in publications like the Daily Mail, Times of India, Boston Globe, Allure, WebMD, Atlantic Monthly, and today – on NPR’s Morning Edition. NPR’s article cites research showing that the so-called “Halo Effect” exists when it comes to smoking, drinking alcohol, and gaining weight. But for the first time –new research is showing that this effect also holds true when it comes to weight loss. The article cites evidence that weight loss spreads both within families and among groups of friends and colleagues, especially when an intervention is designed to facilitate this type of peer-to-peer influence.
The idea that social networks can be intentionally exploited (in a good way) to spread healthy behaviors is profound and has significant implications for public health. The same forces that led to mass smoking cessation across our nation might be harnessesed to reverse—and perhaps solve—our growing obesity epidemic. That would do wonders for ourselves and for the cost of health care in our country.