How Social Networks Influence Your Behavior & Health… For Better & For Worse!
Are your friends making you fat? Writer Clive Thompson posed this question in a New York Times Magazine article that discussed the work of social scientists Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler. In their study, Christakis and Fowler discovered that healthy behaviors—like eating nutritious foods, exercising, and having a happy mindset—are transferred among social circles. They found that good health is not only affected by your genes, diet, and daily routine; it’s also a byproduct of your proximity to other healthy people. If you surround yourself with friends who eat fast food daily, sit around the house, and refuse to exercise, it’s likely that yes, in fact, your friends are making you fat.
So how can you surround yourself with a healthy and supportive social network? Chris Cartter, business expert in health, networking technologies, and social change, delivers a solution through MeYou Health.
MeYou Health is a company dedicated to transforming friends and social networks into support systems for improving health and wellbeing. MeYou Health offers products and social networking applications that engage, educate, and promote positive communication, empowering people to maintain healthy lifestyles. The company focuses on the key importance of building and maintaining strong relationships that promote sustained healthy behavior change. Your friends and social network have strong influence over your behavior. Why not surround yourself with a community dedicated to healthy living, happy mindsets, and overall positive wellbeing?
Learn more about the study by Christakis and Fowler, and how your social networks influence your health. Read an excerpt from my conversation with Chris Cartter below, then listen to the full interview!
Robert: I remember when that piece came out in the New York Times Magazine, “Are Your Friends Making you Fat?”. It was quite interesting. Maybe you can provide the answer to that. Do our friends have that much influence over us?
Chris: Well, I can’t give you any hard and fast answers, but I think there’s a lot of truth to these ideas. And we are sort of plumbing around in this whole idea to figure out how to express this in the products that we bring to market through MeYou Health.
I’ll use the case of smoking cessation as an example, with which I’m most familiar. It’s an area that I’ve been working in for 15 years and developing online interventions designed to help people quit smoking, and in the most part doing it together in groups. One of the things that Christakis and Fowler published in their work was this idea that in their data of successive generations of smokers, entire clusters of smokers quit all together at the same time.
Social network scientists draw these wonderful maps where each person is a dot, and in relationship to another individual there is a line, and these relationships form clusters. They found a lot of clustering among smokers, and this is sort of intuitively true. As you pass by any office building, you will find a whole cluster of people outside smoking. Smokers cluster together with other people that they know. What Christakis and Fowler also found was that smokers quit together, and they would disappear pretty rapidly from this network map where they had previously been designated smokers–they would all quit together! We knew this to be true at QuitNet. In fact, the tagline that we had created in the formation of this web services was, “Quit all together.” So, I think there’s lots of precedents and new research that show that we are in fact all connected. Now whether or not, you know, obesity is literally contagious, I think that’s kind of missing the point. I think these things begin to make sense when you think about your own relationships and how some of these large health problems sort of get distributed throughout communities.