Did your mom ever tell you not to associate with someone because they were a “bad influence”? Perhaps it was the troublemaker at school, or a girlfriend or boyfriend that she didn’t quite approve of. You might have thought “aw, Mom!” at the time, but could she have been right?
Well, new studies show your mom might have been right on track (only she might have been blaming the wrong people!) Who you interact with can have a significant impact on your health, in both good and bad ways.
The discovery that your social network affects your health is relatively new. No, we are not talking about how your constant Facebook posts or tweets
are keeping you from seeing the light of day. A recent study conducted between Harvard Medical School and the University of California reveals that emotions and health can be greatly affected by personal social networks, which include your close friends and family. Over 12,067 people were medically evaluated on multiple occasions from 1971 to 2003 as part of the Framingham Heart study.
The study showed a few surprising findings. Obesity, for example, is one of the biggest health issues in the United States at the moment. It has become an epidemic
, with nearly two out of every three Americans becoming overweight or obese; and there is no sign of slowing down.
Excessively large food portions, lack of adequate exercise and the convenience of inexpensive, heavily processed fast foods are among the most common explanations for this growing trend. But, according to the study, the reason stems from a much deeper root: social interactions play a role in influencing someone's likelihood of becoming overweight or obese, and it is in part a contagious disease.
For example, if one sibling became obese, the risk of another sibling gaining excessive weight increased by 40%. It's not just genetics; if a spouse became obese, similar numbers showed up, with a 37% increase in risk of developing obesity.
Upon first glance it might seem obvious as to why these family members cause each other to become obese. Shared meals and similar lifestyles might seem like the clear reason, but a study that compared friends, even those who did not see each other on a regular basis, concluded that their risk of becoming overweight increased even more, by 57%. Out of two close friends, if one became obese, the other friend's chances of becoming obese shot up by a whopping 171%.
The researchers suggest that perhaps the reason why these friends and family are causing each other to gain weight is because if one friend or family member becomes obese, over time everyone around them might accept it as “normal,” and maybe even inevitable. This would cause an individual to put off exercise, eat as much as he or she pleases and not worry about whether or not he or she will be socially accepted.The Happiness Factor
On a more positive note, the researchers also discovered that happiness truly does spread
, though not permanently. In a room with a group of people, if someone broke down crying or became extremely happy, the study showed that everyone else in the room would almost certainly feel the same way; though not for long. After only a few minutes, everyone else in the room would return to their previous emotional state.
The numbers are not as drastic as the obesity problem, either. A happy spouse can cause the other spouse to have an 8% chance increase in happiness, and a sibling can affect their other siblings by as much as 14%. Fortunately, the researchers also discovered that unhappiness was not contagious, though they are not sure why.