Social Networking’s Impact on Weight Loss
Article By: The Weight Watchers Research Department
It has been known for years that the likelihood of being overweight increases among family members, most likely due to a combination of living together and sharing the same gene pool.
Likewise, spouses tend to gain weight together. However, in July 2007, the New England Journal of Medicine published a study that revealed social relationships have an even more powerful impact on weight gain.1
The association of obesity among friends, spouses, siblings and neighbors over a 32-year period was evaluated in more than 12,000 people from the Framingham Heart Study. The researchers found that friends had the greatest impact on becoming obese and that the type of friendship made a difference. For example, a close, mutual friendship resulted in a 171-percent increased risk of obesity, while a one-way friendship increased the chances by 57 percent. These findings contrast with a 40-percent increased risk among siblings and 37 percent between spouses. Friendships are so influential, in fact, that the likelihood of obesity even increased when the friend of a friend was the one to gain weight. Same gender relationships also have a stronger influence than those between genders. Perhaps most surprising was the finding that geographical closeness made no difference.
While this study established strong links between social relationships and obesity, the authors state the opposite is just as likely to happen. In fact, an unrelated study showed that when people joined a group-based weight-loss program with friends and family, they lost more weight and kept if off better than those who joined the same program alone.2
The Weight Watchers Approach
A supportive environment is one of the four pillars of the Weight Watchers approach. (Find out more in Science and Weight Watchers). Being surrounded by and developing social networks with others committed to a healthy lifestyle is a critical factor in weight-loss success. Social networks can take many forms, and the larger the network, the greater the influence. For example, a 24-week study found that people assigned to attend Weight Watchers meetings and use the eTools Internet weight-loss companion lost over 50 percent more weight on average than those who were instructed to only attend meetings. (To learn more, read New Data Shows Weekly Meetings Plus Internet Tools Offer Increased Weight-Loss Success.) This shows that various methods of expanding one’s social network can improve success.