Social life and health, should we be paying closer attention?
David took a few days off at the end of January. He had hoped to go somewhere for a long weekend. When that didn’t materialise, he declared, “Kine! No cooking for you! Let’s blow the holiday budget eating out.” And that’s what we did for 5 days straight. We ate out and we ate out late. We were often the last customers at restaurants. Needless to say, by the 7th day, my belly felt like it was in it’s second trimester of pregnancy.
I enjoy socialising, especially if good food is involved. My diet at home is very simple and made up of fresh whole foods. I don’t like cooking and mostly stick to eating the same thing everyday because it’s quick, easy and stress free. When I eat at home, I’m mainly focused on getting the balance of nutrients right on my plate. This enables me to dine out once or twice weekly without damage. I guess I pushed it a bit by going 5 days.
Humans are created as social beings
Human beings are created social beings. We thrive in communities and can become depressed in isolation. This is why many people struggled during the Covid pandemic lockdown.
And the LORD God said, “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.”
Who you hangout with can either be your helper or a stumbling block. Your social life can significantly impact your health. It can either negatively or positively impact your health, weight loss and wellness goals. If your social activities revolve around food and drink, such as going out to eat or drinking alcohol with friends, it can be challenging to maintain a healthy diet and control your calorie intake.
The subliminal influence social networks have over your health
I found the theory researched and proposed by Yale university professor Dr. Nicholas Christakis quite interesting. He claims there are areas in our brain stimulated to imitate the actions we see others doing like eating food. And, there’s a strong likelihood of becoming obese if those in our social networks are obese. If we’re surrounded by friends who have a fondness for cake, we will develop a fondness for cake. The surprising and unexpected discovery from his research is, knowing someone who knows someone who is obese can increase your likelihood of developing obesity overtime. This is the bit that surprised me – knowing someone who knows someone who’s obese increases your likelihood of developing it. Hmmmm
The Farmington health study – social life impact
In the 1930s, as the incidence of cardiovascular disease rapidly increased, the United States Public Health Service took action. It initiated a comprehensive study to understand why heart disease had become the leading cause of death in the country by the late 1940s. The study examined 12,000 + people over a 32yr period. It discovered that key elements of the American lifestyle contributed to the high rates of disease and disability. Study participants were medically examined every 2-4 yrs in a bid to discover why heart disease became the leading cause of death.
The data from the Framingham participants showed that good habits, such as quitting smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, and being happy, can spread among friends as if they were contagious viruses. This means that simply socialising with others can have an impact on one’s health. Conversely, clusters of friends can also negatively affect each other’s health by “infecting” each other with obesity, unhappiness, and smoking. It’s not just your genes and diet that contribute to good health, but also your proximity to other healthy people. Maintaining close and regular contact with healthy friends for a prolonged period of time can have a significant impact on your health.
Obesity is contagious, it can spread like a virus.
The incidence of obesity among individuals is impacted by their social network. The research shows that an individual’s likelihood of becoming obese increases by 57% if they have a friend who becomes obese within a certain timeframe. The influence is even greater among siblings. A 40% chance of one sibling becoming obese if the other sibling becomes obese. The same holds true for spouses, with a 37% likelihood of one spouse becoming obese if the other spouse becomes obese. However, this phenomenon is not observed among neighbours in close proximity. The impact of social influence is also stronger between individuals of the same sex than those of the opposite sex.
Excerpt from “Are your friends making you fat”.
Over the next few years, social scientists Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler managed a team that painstakingly sifted through the Framingham records. When they were done, they had a map of how 5,124 subjects were connected, tracing a web of 53,228 ties between friends and family and work colleagues. Next they analysed the data, beginning with tracking patterns of how and when Framingham residents became obese. Soon they had created an animated diagram of the entire social network. Each resident represented on their computer screens as a dot that grew bigger or smaller as he or she gained or lost weight over 32 years, from 1971 to 2003.
When they ran the animation, they could see that obesity broke out in clusters. People weren’t just getting fatter randomly. Groups of people would become obese together, while other groupings would remain slender or even lose weight. The social effect appeared to be quite powerful.
What you should do now
- Be aware that unhealthy habits spread through social ties. Start to pay more attention to the habits and practices of those in your networks. Note how it influences your own behaviours.
- If you have health goals, limit the amount of time you spend in environments that enable the bad habits you’re trying to change.
- Healthy behaviours also spread. Don’t run away from the health freaks, embrace them. They will save your life.
The relevance of network phenomena in connection with the biological and behavioural traits of obesity epidemic is something to be considered when setting weight loss goals. The impact of social networks on obesity highlights the potential for network dynamics to play a positive role in the obesity epidemic.
This same social influence can be leveraged to promote healthy behaviours and slow the spread of obesity. By utilising network phenomena, it may be possible to spread positive health habits and make a positive impact on public health. Participate in active social activities, such as fitness challenges and exercising with friends. You’ll not only have fun, but also increase your physical activity and boost your weight loss efforts.
Additionally, the support and encouragement of friends and family can also play a key role in helping you reach your weight loss goals. It’s important to find a balance between enjoying your social life and staying committed to your health goals. Surround yourself with people who support and encourage a healthy lifestyle.
Framingham Heart Study https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMsa066082
Are your friends making you fat?https://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/13/magazine/13contagion-t.html
The connection between sleep and weight gain