Your friends can make you sick

By Kelly Jirsa

Your friends can make you sick
Results of studies over decades, especially one following 12,000 people over 32 years, has uncovered a dark truth about how your friend's health can influence your own.

Startling evidence is emerging from studies that show the social spread of certain behaviours and conditions. They show that there is a strong correlation between those at risk and their influence on close friends and partners.

The longitudinal studies, running well over a staggering 20 years, show behaviours spreading across social networks and up to three degrees of separation.

The evidence is in. Measurements show how your significant other or close friends influence your health and well-being:

  • Quitting smoking: Your likelihood of smoking decreases by 67% when your significant other quits.
  • Happiness: Depending on your proximity, your chance of increased happiness rises by 25% when in contact with a happy person. Though the study states the influence is strongest when they are a friend and live within 1.6km of you. Siblings and significant others have less influence it seems, significant other 8% and siblings 14%.
  • Obesity: A 32 year long study indicated that your chances of becoming obese increase by 171% when you have an obese friend.
  • Suicide attempts: According to a study undertaken by the Medical Research Council in Edinburgh, your risk of attempting suicide is four times higher when close to someone who has attempted suicide.

The statistics are sobering, but on the flip-side they show that there is great potential for influencing good health. In fact some public health specialists have put this into practice, they have used these principals to deliver good health programs and influence behaviours in the villages of Honduras, Central America. The studies also show how social media networks online can be used to make health programs more widely successful.

Looking at your Facebook news feed can attest to the power of the social influence affect. Health and fitness challenge related posts and tweets do really well on social media; when you like or comment with words of encouragement on your friend’s posts more and more people are seeing them succeed. As a participant in forming new healthy habits, not only is reporting your progress great for keeping you accountable, but it also influences healthy habits in others.

Go forth and spread good health!

More from MiNDFOOD on friendships and relationships:

How to: Detox your relationships

How your friends influence your eating habits



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