Is Weight Loss Contagious?

By , SparkPeople Blogger
When you hear the word contagious does this conjure up thoughts of illnesses such as the flu or strep throat? You know the diseases that are spread by bodily contact with those around you. BUT have you ever thought your weight may also be associated with those we relate to on a daily basis whether in person or via a social network site such as SparkPeople.

In a study published in the July 2007 edition of The New England Journal of Medicine, researchers noted that the friends we associate with, whether far away or those who live close by, have a huge influence on our weight. The study reported that there was a 57 percent chance of one becoming obese if one of the friends became obese. This rate rose to a whopping 71 percent if the friend was of the same gender, regardless of where that friend lived-- whether she/he lived across the country or right next door.

Obesity is a health crisis affecting every country across the globe. Heart disease, type II diabetes, as well as some cancers are just a few of the diseases linked to our weight. According to the Center of Disease Control, in 2011 over 30% of all Americans were considered obese, while 17% of children ranging in age from 2-19 were classified as obese. This trend, if the course we remain on does not change, will inevitably lead to rising healthcare cost for all of us across the board.

And while the solution may be as simple as eating less and moving more, without the support of friends and family, it is very tempting to ascribe to their unhealthy ways. I see this as one of the most common complaints from members, not only on the message boards, but our SparkTeams as well-- they do not have the support of family and friends who understand their need to become healthy. This lack of support is what can be the difference between success and failure. And take it from someone who has been there, it can be quite difficult to go it alone.

However, what if I told you that just like our friends can influence our weight gain, same can be said about our weight loss?

In a study published last month in the online journal Obesity, researchers from The Miriam Hospital's Weight Control and Diabetes Research Center and The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University found that those members who participated in a weight loss competition were able to "achieve similar weight loss outcomes" and the more support the team members had, the better the weight loss outcome.

So what does this mean for you? How do you connect with a team to help you reach your goal?

Being a member of SparkPeople you have access to support, encouragement and motivation, not only on the message boards, but in many of the SparkTeams available to you. If you need that extra push, you may want to check out SparkPeople's Challenge Central. But don't underestimate your power of helping others who are just beginning their journey or may have found themselves stuck.

One of the amazing outcomes in this study showed that team leaders lost more weight than their team members. While researchers speculate that this may be in part due to "increased motivation and engagement in the campaign" the power of helping others can be a huge motivator in helping us achieve our own success. Something we here at SparkPeople already knew. It's not the experts and coaches that allow our members to achieve success, but the motivation that is driven by ordinary people doing extraordinary deeds.

What do you think about this study? Do you think support is a huge motivator for helping you meet your goals and helping others meet their goals? Do actively participate in challenges here on SparkPeople, and if so which ones?

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HEDSTS58 6/12/2020
It is true. If you don't have support, it is a a struggle to lose the weight Report
PAMBROWN62 2/22/2020
What I have learned is you cannot help someone who doesn’t want to put in the effort. Report
LOSER05 11/24/2019
Thanks Report
I wish it is as easy to loose weight as it is to gain it. I work hard for six months, watch what I eat and exercise and lose 10 pounds. I can gain those ten pounds back in one week. Report
KHALIA2 9/19/2019
Great Article! Thanks! Report
CHERRYZMB60 9/1/2019
Good article thanks Report
Great article! Report
Great article Report
My best friend lost 70 pounds and reached her goal. She is my greatest inspiration. Report
Great info! Thanks! Report
No question about it! I started losing weight last year in April. By mid-summer, not only had all my colleagues noticed -- they too began eating better, walking at lunch, or joining gyms. The boxes of donuts or plates of cookies people brought in (that USED to be devoured within minutes) now languished for days on the counter. By the end of the summer, my husband and one sister also decided to lose weight. Moreover, the fact that I feel as though I started something has kept me motivated; I don't want to let these folks down by regaining the weight or resuming bad habits. Report
Once I started being "out" about my weight loss/fitness journey, I've had many friends and family join me-- it's great to have the support and camaraderie. I wish I'd been more vocal about it before and perhaps I wouldn't've had the many-year setback I did. Report
Great article! Thank you! Report
Useful points very helpful Report
Being part of a successful team is really important to me. I participate on teams here and as a Weight Watcher member. But I only attend WW meetings where at least some of the people are at maintenance. Having people around me who have been successful with weight loss inspires me to be like them. Report
Great article Report
I totally agree as well. We are all products of the environment in which we live so being surrounded by people with healthy lifestyle choices are always going to encourage us in a more effective manner to make the same healthy lifestyle choices. As for the opposite, the same is true. If we surround ourselves with people making poor choices, we are much less apt to go 'against the grain' and make wise choices on our own. Report
I believe weight loss is contagious and I know it is an individual thing for have got to want to do it. Know one else can make you do it. Since I started SP my DH has changed some of eating habits and my best friend has taken note of what and when she eats (also drinking water). I never said a word to either of them about this is what you should do or this is better for you. I just did my thing and they caught the momentum. Report

When I want to lose some weight I go and create a challenge so that there will be a bunch of others in it with me.

Same with the maintenance challenges we run over at the At Goal and Maintaining team.

It works pretty well! Report
I totally agree with you at work when I started to workout & lose weight many co-workers started to eat healthier. Last year I ran my first 1/2 marathon & this year a co-worker will do the same. I love all my Spark Team's they are AWESOME people in each one which help me keep on track. Report
I completely agree with this. I find Spark people and Spark Teams very very helpful and motivational as well as my gym buddies who all hold me accountable and encourage me.

One thing this article didn't talk about is friends who have the opposite habits and deal with them. I have found avoidance is the best method for me, but sadly that kinda means limiting or ending the friendship. I don't want to lose long term friends, but I can't keep the same eating and social habits and they have shown a lack of willingness and/or readiness to change. Report
I wish it were!! Coming from a skinny mom, a perfect weight dad, a skinny brother, friends in their right weight, a sporty right weight husband, believe me, I WISH IT WERE... Report
Participating in team challenges and interacting with SparkBuddies has been the biggest motivating force for me. Encouraging and motivating other team members seems to bounce right back on me, creating a positive cycle that I've never experienced with other weight loss/fitness endeavors. Being an active member of the SparkCommunity helps keep me moving forward. Report
I completely agree with the information in this post. I have been trying desperately to lose weight since my sophmore year in college (which was 8 years ago) when I realized that I had packed on about 30 pounds during my freshman year. Instead of losing I actually continued to put on the pounds until I had gained a total of 70 pounds since graduating from high school. What happened? College partying, living with THREE culinary arts majors, having two babies, moving 10 (yes, 10) times in about 6 years, blah, blah, blah. Everyone around me, especially my husband, had the same habits and we were all gaining weight.

Then my husband had a health scare about a month and a half ago. Between the doctor and myself, the message to him was that if he wanted to see his children, who are now 3 and 1, graduate from high school, he needed to do something NOW. So we decided to change together. We've cut out so many of the bad habits like fast food, soda, alcohol, and added good habits like regular exercise, drinking plenty of water, and limiting eating out. Each of us have lost 11 pounds. While the health scare has been a huge motivator for both of us, now that we have each other for support (and in all honesty, competition) we're on a much healthier path TOGETHER. Report
I would say that yes, outside support can be a huge factor. My goal personally is to be able to motivate myself consistently, but I'm not quite there yet.

In fact, I was away from SP for about 3 months, but I was pleasantly pushed by my sister's weight loss and commitment. I'm around my husband the most, but his goal is to gain muscle mass and he pounds out an 8-mile like it's no big deal. I'm inspired by his athleticism, but discouraged because I can't keep up.

However, my sister and I are similar in weight loss goals and physical fitness, so I don't feel like I'm losing some competition. I've just started associating with her more in terms of being accountability partners, but so far it's working well.

Anyway - point being that I find SP's community aspect awesome and I thrive on it! Report
== Do you think support is a huge motivator for helping you meet your goals and helping others meet their goals? ==

Well, I don't think incoming support to me is a motivator or a big deal. If no one ever commented on one of my blogs or responded to one of my forum posts, I'd still be eating well and exercising regularly. But that's me personally; I tend to be very self-motivated and actually resistant to much outside support. (Head games about proving that I can do it without help, or something.)

That said, I do think it's a huge deal for most people to have others around them offering support. I would say I feel much more motivated through activities in which I am cheering on and encouraging others (and myself by proxy).

== Do actively participate in challenges here on SparkPeople, and if so which ones? ==

I've done a couple of the official challenges - the 5K Your Way and the 10-minute fitness. Most of the others haven't been good enough fits with my way. (I was interested in the 28-day Bootcamp, for example, but I go to the gym daily so I'm not at home with videos and dumbbells.)

I've also done or am doing several team challenges and work toward multiple Team Goals. And I co-lead one of my teams and have been trying to provide interesting challenges to get members involved. (Which ties back into what I said about motivating others - that does more for me.) Report
Oh yes. Support has been a crucial factor for me in this fitness/weight loss journey. And yes, I actively participate in all things SP! Report
Once I started to welcome Diabetes new members I found that I became so much better educated about my condition. The more you interact in conditions helps you to learn a lot more than if you look things up or read books from the library. Because I encouraged others to do some strength training, track their food and test their FBS the proper way it reinforces my healthy journey. Whatever I share with others they share with me by way of their gratitude I feel good about what I am doing. Pat in Miane. Report
I think the article is right on the money! When I was trying to quit smoking, I couldn't be around my "smoking buddies" anymore. That same seems to be true of losing weight too. I find I need to be around people who also want a healthy lifestyle. Until my true will power is strong I've decided to cook at home so both my husband and I know what we're putting into our mouths. Don't get me wrong, I still go out with my gal friends but I definitely go for lower calorie meals. They pretty much do too. When we're told "be aware of what's going on around you" the same is true of what a person is putting into their mouth. We learn to make all kinds of choices during our day; some of them may be good and some may be bad. Having a support system to help us through those bad choices is highly recommended. Thanks for the great article. Report
I learned that I have a long way to go more ways then one.I am finding outwhot when my problem. Why. How to stop it. All so finding a way to eat for the rest of my life. Report
I think we (subconsciously, at least) take on the habits of those around us. We are programmed to want to fit in! When out with my husband and in laws the other night, I didn't think twice about taking another piece of bread--I tracked it of course!--but when out the other night with girlfriends who are all model thin, I was very aware of what I ate. In this case, at least, that wasn't a bad thing. It helped me be aware of what and how much I eat at restaurants, that will hopefully translate to other situations. Report
This article is right on. I have a friend who had bariatric surgery and all she seems to think about is going to restaurants; the surgery didn't help her mental state. I have another friend who wants to lose weight, but she's always saying how good this or that tastes, or talking about what she's going to buy at the grocery store, what she's going to cook, etc. If I'm around them any length of time while trying to eat right and exercise I actually get depressed! We've drifted apart lately, and I'm content with that. Maybe it's wrong to feel that way, but I can't help them if they don't want it, and at the same time they can sure do me a lot of harm. Report
This is nice to hear. When I first started on my weight loss journey I was super-depressed by the thought that the whole world is overweight. But now, being a part of this amazing community, I know that there is a group of people (a HUGE group of people) that are healthy and happy and going strong. Report
Our "DONE BEING THE FAT GIRL" Team is great support. Report
Our "DONE BEING THE FAT GIRL" Team is great support. Report
Our "DONE BEING THE FAT GIRL" Team is great support. Report