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Weight Loss is Contagious, How To Catch It

Weight loss can be contagious

Weight loss is something millions of people attempt each year, but according to a new study, losing weight might be contagious. No, losing weight is not like catching a cold, but you might catch it if you team up with other like-minded people.

Weight loss is good to catch

One bit of advice often given to people who undertake a new exercise program is to buddy up or exercise with a friend, because they can encourage and motivate each other to keep moving and to lose weight. Or, as some may say, misery loves company.

However, there clearly is something to getting support to help you lose weight, and it is a tool weight loss programs such as Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig use, which offer online community support groups, consultants, and/or meetings where individuals can motivate each other.

Now the authors of a new study from The Miriam Hospital’s Weight Control and Diabetes Research Center and The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University report that losing weight can be contagious, in a way, when team work is involved.

Lead author Tricia Leahey, PhD, of The Miriam Hospital and Alpert Medical School, explained that “In our study, weight loss clearly clustered within teams, which suggests that teammates influenced each other, perhaps by providing accountability, setting expectations of weight loss, and providing encouragement and support.”

The investigators came to these conclusions based on the results of the 2009 Shape Up Rhode Island campaign, which involved 3,330 overweight or obese individuals who could enroll in one or more of three groups: weight loss, physical activity, or pedometer steps. The study lasted 12 weeks.

The weight loss study findings
A total of 987 teams with an average of 5 to 11 members each participated in the study, and most of the individuals enrolled in all three groups. Here’s a breakdown of the findings:

  • People who lost at least 5% of their starting body weight tended to be on the same teams
  • Being on a team with more teammates in the weight loss group was associated with greater loss of weight
  • Participants who reported higher levels of social influence from their teammates increased their chances of significant weight loss by 20%

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Leahy noted that theirs is the “first study to show that in these team-based campaigns, who’s on your team really matters.” Therefore, weight loss efforts are greatly improved if you surround yourself with others who have similar goals and you are all trying to reach it together.

Weight loss can be contagious.

An interesting observation was that team captains lost more weight than their team members. Leahy suggested this could be associated with increased motivation or involvement by captains, and that sharing the leadership role in weight loss teams should be considered.

The United States could use a good contagious wave of weight loss. Approximately two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese, and this burden comes with associated problems such as heart disease, diabetes, and the added complications excess weight places on osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, respiratory diseases, and other diseases, not to mention the impact on health care costs.

In her book, The Anytime, Anywhere Exercise Book, author Joan Price noted that “Being accountable to a buddy who’s both supportive and tough can help you avoid bouts of mindless eating and resist temptation such as pastries in the office or a colleague’s birthday cake.”

Leahy comments on a broader effort, noting that “We’re all influenced by the people around us, so if we can harness this positive peer pressure and these positive social influences, we can create a social environment to help encourage additional weight loss.” Weight loss can be contagious, if you try to catch it.

Miriam Hospital
Price, Joan. The Anytime, Anywhere Exercise Book. 2003, Adams Media Corporation.

Image: Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons