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Weight loss can be contagious

[Posted: Thu 16/02/2012]

By Gillian Tsoi

Weight loss can be contagious, according to a new US study.

Researchers have found that being surrounded by other people who have similar health goals may help people with their weight loss efforts.

The study focused on the results of a 12-week online weight loss competition. The competition involved 3,330 overweight or obese individuals (BMI of 31.2 or greater).

Those taking part were divided into a total of 987 teams, consisting of between five and 11 members each.

The teams competed against other teams in three divisions: weight loss, physical activity and pedometer steps.

The team members not only achieved similar weight loss to their teammates, but participants who said that their teammates played a large role in their weight loss actually lost the most weight.

The study - conducted by researchers from The Miriam Hospital's Weight Control and Diabetes Research Center, and The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University - is the first to examine the effects of teams and social influence on individual weight loss.

"We know that obesity can be socially contagious, but now we know that social networks play a significant role in weight loss as well, particularly team-based weight loss competitions," said researcher Tricia Leahey, from Brown University.

"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."

"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," said
Dr Leahey.

The study was published online in the journal Obesity.

Obesity is a growing problem in Ireland. According to the National Adult Nutrition Survey last year, 61% of adults in the Republic of Ireland were either overweight (37%) or obese (24%).

The prevalence of obesity in 18-64 year-olds has increased significantly since 1990 from 8% to 26% in men, and from 13% to 21% in women.



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