At the beginning of the new year, many people usually make the decision to start living healthier. Many believe that such decisions are easier to implement if the same changes in life are introduced by a family member or a friend.
But we do not make all decisions that affect health consciously because we often copy the behavior of friends, colleagues or relatives with whom we identify or serve as a role model. At the same time, unfortunately, we also imitate habits that are bad for our health, such as smoking or overeating.
This means that some non-communicable conditions, such as heart disease, stroke or cancer, can be transmitted from person to person as a type of infection, writes the BBC.
Can friends influence you to gain weight?
The people we value and with whom we are in regular contact represent our social environment. One American study found that a person is much more prone to obesity if someone in their environment has also gained weight.
The study suggests that an individual is 57 percent more likely to gain weight if his friend also gained weight, 40 percent more likely if his brother or sister gained weight, and 37 percent more likely if he is a spouse.
The phenomenon was more pronounced if it was two persons of the same sex, and it also depended on the extent to which the individual’s feelings towards that other person were strong.
It is similar with the decision to divorce, smoke and consume alcohol, which seems to have spread through friends and family.
These findings are important because, although our aging is partly influenced by genetic predisposition to certain diseases, the risk of an individual developing the most common non-communicable diseases depends significantly on his or her behavior. These are smoking, diet, time spent in physical activity, alcohol consumption.
These non-communicable conditions, including heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes and lung disease, cause 70 percent of deaths globally.
Feelings are contagious
Behavior and mood can be influenced by the social environment. Psychologists believe that the decision to start smoking in teenagers is most often influenced by one’s popularity in society. When popular adolescents smoke, the overall level of smoking also increases, and the number of people who quit smoking decreases.
Equally, young people whose friends are in a bad mood are more likely to become in a bad mood themselves and vice versa. It is known that low mood affects the quality of life of teenagers, and in those who are sensitive later in life, it can also result in clinical depression.
Copying or imitating the decisions and behaviors of friends and family members can also be used for good purposes.
Dry January and Vegan January, which encourage people to give up alcohol consumption or become vegan, are examples of a valuable collective effort to get individuals working on health.
“Stoptober,” an action during which the English are encouraged to quit smoking in October, is another positive example of a group lifestyle change.
This initiative, based on spreading new values through social media, has been a huge success since it was launched in 2012.
It is believed to have resulted in more than a million attempts to quit smoking, suggesting that a one-time and large collective effort can have a very effective impact on health.
If we want to improve the health of the population globally, we might be able to take advantage of these influential individuals, who are the link of social events, who are more inclined to share the experience with others, those who communicate and communicate with many people.
And while “Stoptober” has reaped great success, similar high-profile campaigns that focus on a healthier lifestyle are not effective for everyone.
The usual spread of messages about healthier living can increase inequalities when it comes to health because not everyone is in a position to accept the advice offered.
This often works only among the healthiest, that is, among those for whom health always comes first, among highly educated people, wealthier people and those with social support that allows them to make lifestyle changes.