General Health

Are your friends a health risk? Are you a health risk to your friends?

Do your friends encourage you to keep in shape? Or do they ridicule and undermine such attempts? Research is showing that many people are sabotaging their health in order to maintain their current circle of friends. Let’s investigate how friends can influence our health…

A few years back I caught up with a friend of mine who I hadn’t seen for about six months. When we met at a local cafe he gave me his traditional enthusiastic welcome. Then he stepped back for a moment and scanned me up and down and then patted me on the stomach, which was pressing the fabric of my shirt with a lot more force than it had in the past.

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“What’s this? This isn’t like you. Come on and get back into it,” he said with his typically Australian frankness. “You’re in the health industry. You need to practice what you preach.”

I remember trying to mumble some lame justification but I new he was right. I had let myself go. It was the kick up the pants I needed. It was nice to have a former professional athlete as a friend who was willing to stand up for my health.

That night I went home, took off my shirt and had a good hard look at myself in the mirror.

From that moment on I consciously improved my lifestyle and got back into peak shape again.

Recently I met the diminutive Sara and I noticed she was eating sugary cereal during her coffee break.

“What are you eating that for,” I asked being surprised.

“My friends are telling me that I have to put on weight,” she explained.

Now Sara, was a small girl of Malaysian background and she was a perfectly healthy size and shape.

“Do any of your Malaysian friends say that you’re underweight?” I quizzed.

“No, but all my friends in Australia do,” she replied.

“They are only saying that because your size, in comparison, forces them to look at their own body size and shape. Many of them are probably overweight.”

“They are.”

“So rather than having to face the reality that they may need to take some action, they are encouraging you to get fatter so that they don’t have to confront their own health and weight issues.”

It can even become a form of bonding. The more things that you have in common (including your weight), the closer the friendship bond becomes. This human trait for connection and bonding with others makes the bond of friendship a very powerful motivational force.

When you look at it, it seems like I am stating the obvious. You and your friends may have smoked or in the past. When one person in the group decides to give the smokes away, it often starts a cascade as others follow suit. But a recent study highlights that we may be sabotaging our own health just in an effort to maintain our close relationships.

A study of 12067 people over three decades found that people were at greatest risk of becoming obese when a friend became obese. The study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, examined the data of participants in the Framingham Heart Study from 1971 to 2003.

What they found was that when a friend became obese there was a 57 per cent increased chance of their friends becoming obese also. The effect was even greater when a close mutual friend became obese. In this case, if one became obese the other friend had a 171 per cent increased chance of becoming obese also. There was no effect when a neighbour gained or lost weight. Although family members did have some influence on the weight of other family members, friends had a much larger influence.

It is because of this influence from our peers that I discourage people joining groups like Weight Watcher’s where overweight people get together. Instead I would recommend that you join a club or group where there are lots of fit and active people. Hang out with vibrant happy, healthy people and you will soon observe and learn so many lifestyle ideas that will help your own health thrive.

If there was something that you can do that can reduce the risk of obesity of your friends by 57 – 171 percent, would you do it? This study shows that one of the best ways that you can be a friend is by looking after yourself. The influence of you leading by your example can inspire many of your friends to regaining their zest for life. Isn’t that one of the best reasons to get back into shape?

When we let ourselves indulge in unhealthy habits we often think “It is nobody else’s business. I am not doing anyone else any harm.” But this study shows that your actions have the potential to influence the health of those you hold dearest. I suppose that it really depends upon what kind of influence do you want to be on your friends?

With businesses looking to save money during this more challenging business conditions, in light of these results, it makes sense for business to evaluate the health and fitness of prospective employees. Not only can an out of shape employee (or boss for that matter) cost a business more in terms of days lost due to injury or illness but this study shows that their behaviors and attitudes can have an adverse impact on other staff members that they bond with.

If you are overweight or out of shape, don’t bother feeling guilty about the kind of influence that you may be having. That serves no one. The moment that you start to take action to get yourself back into shape, you immediately become a source of inspiration to your friends and business colleagues.

So what kind of friend do you want to be? An inspiration or a health risk?


I love to write on real-life facts. Working as a journalist on a local newspaper as senior editor. I love to listen music, gossiping with others, traveling and swimming.

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