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Are your friends making you fat?

Some studies have suggested that if your friends are heavy, you will tend to be too. Is this idea holding up? (Getty Images/iStockphoto/shih-wei)

WASHINGTON — What do your eating habits, your body weight and your friends have in common?

Some studies appear to suggest that if your pals are a bit on the heavy side, you’re more likely to be as well.

Sally Squires, who writes the Lean Plate Club™ blog, says your social network can make a difference in losing weight and keeping it off.

“It does appear that our social network has a lot of impact on us and it’s not surprising,” Squires told WTOP. “We know that whether you’re trying to eat better or if you’re imbibing a little too much alcohol or trying some other things, that the friends you keep, it’s kind of ‘monkey see monkey do.’ You’re more apt to do what your friends do. …

“It’s important to kind of look at the people around you if you’re trying to change your habits.”

One of the most recent studies that looked into how friends impact weight was a large, randomized clinical trial of weight loss in Scotland that recruited men who were soccer fans to participate.

“They did a group called Football Fans in Training, and it was a three-and-a-half-year study that leveraged the loyalty that men feel for their soccer teams to see if it could help motivate them to work together to shed pounds and keep it off,” Squires said.

There were 665 men in the study, ages 36 to 66, and 488 completed it. On average, the men lost six pounds each and kept the weight off. And they stuck together.

“They found they had better improvements in their body mass, smaller waistlines, lower body fat, better blood pressure, they engaged in more physical activity and had better eating habits. So they were eating smaller portions,” Squires told WTOP.

“In short, they were doing all the things that are healthy.”

All of that, Squires says, really suggests that if you can find people with similar interests, it can help with success.

The “social network effect” is similar for women. Harvard researchers teamed up with scientists from Emory University, Vassar and the University of Georgia to study 44 sorority sisters at a Southeastern university so they could see what impact their social network had on their attitudes about food and body image.

About two-thirds of the participants were freshmen and sophomores; the rest were juniors and seniors.

According to the study, 41 percent reported bingeing on food — twice the typical average.

Those with better eating habits were more likely to be “liked” by the other members, while those with higher BMIs were more likely to “like” others.

The bottom line? If you want to improve your healthy eating habits, team up with friends, family and co-workers to increase your shot at success.


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