Are Your Friends Making You Fat?


If the majority of your friends drink too much, eat too much and are overweight, it may be time to do some culling.

We become like the people we spend our time with. As a general observation this would appear to be true. Just take a look at suburbs – it is fair to say that the people who live, work and socialise in the east of Sydney do tend to look and behave differently to those who live, work and play out west. There is no judgment associated with this observation, it is simply because as humans, like animals, we like to associate with others who are like ourselves, this ‘oneness’  helps us to feel safe, warm and cosy. 

When it comes to lifestyle habits though, this connectedness which occurs at both a conscious and unconscious level poses a significant issue as it appears that both good and bad lifestyle habits are catching. This means that if your friends are overweight, unfit and lazy, statistics suggest you are going to head that way too. 

A couple of years back a landmark finding from a long term study published in the New England Journal of Medicine alarmingly found a powerful link between peoples weight and the weight of those close to them. The Framingham Heart Study, which has followed more than 15 000 Framingham residents since 1948 has not only provided huge amounts of data relating to heart disease risk factors but the data has also been used to track social connections and health variables of the participants. When researchers looked at these social connections in terms of participants who gained or lost weight, it was clear that individuals did not become obese randomly, rather groups of people would become obese together over even lose weight together. So significant were these findings that the study showed that when a Framingham resident became obese, his or her friends were 57 percent more likely to become obese too.

If we translate these findings into useful recommendations and tips to move forward with our own health and fitness, basically we all need to be exceptionally mindful of how powerful the influence of those around us actually is. The buddy who likes to meet over a 6 pack of beer on a weekly basis; the girlfriend who always makes you cake even though she knows that you are on a diet or the friend who talks you out of exercising so you can grab a drink instead. As a one off change to plans or behaviour no harm is caused, but when such tendencies become the ‘norm’, strong lifestyle habits form and it is these habits that in turn ultimately determine our weight and health long term. 

Unfortunately when it comes to people and human nature, it is rarely the ‘good’ habits that dominate. Overeating is far more common than under eating; drinking too much alcohol tends to override abstaining and dieting is frowned upon by those who know they too need to lose weight but are currently making the choice not to. In each of these daily scenarios that confront us, to say ‘no’ and be strong to continue with your own goals and focus is challenging, as challenging as it was to say no to a smoke in the playground with the ‘cool kids’.

In particular the workplace environment is perhaps one of the most challenging environments in which to engineer if one is to avoid weight gain and stay on track with their health and fitness goals. Not only is long periods of inactivity encouraged but is considered the norm; lunch breaks are nothing short of a privilege and then there are the feeders – those office mates who love nothing more than to feed everyone high fat, high calorie foods. 

So knowing this, what can you do to help your quest for weight control, health and fitness? Basically, seek out the thin, fit and healthy people and do what they do. The research findings from the Framingham Heart study would suggest that the more time you spend with those who exhibit the characteristics and behaviours you too would like to share; the more likely you are to also develop them. This is of particular importance for parents, who need to know and understand that if they are fit and active, so too will their children be. On the other hand, if as a parent you eat badly, are overweight and do not exercise, chances are your kids will be overweight and lazy as well. Most importantly, when it comes to those around us who do continually sabotage our efforts and throw how lifestyle choice off track it may be time to name and shame them. Next time your buddy at work attempts to derail your healthy eating program or tries to convince you to skip the gym, feel confident in naming the behaviour as ‘disappointing’ and one that may eventually leave you questioning whether it is a good idea for you to spend time with that person, because it is really only your health and weight that will be suffering as a result, or at least a 57% chance that it will.

Susie Burrell

Please note: This blog aims to supply user-friendly nutrition information for busy people without comprising on food taste and quality but should be used as a guide only and not in place of advice from your own dietitian or medical specialist. For further information on this topic, please consult your health professional. The content of this blog, including attachments, may be privileged and confidential. Any un-authorised use of this content is expressly prohibited. Any views that are expressed in this message are those of the individual sender, except where the sender expressly, and with authority, states them to be the views of Susie Burrell Pty Ltd.
Category: Nutrition

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