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Tracy Shawn: How Social Networks Influence Weight and Well-Being

Study shows why it's important to take in the positive, and give out the positive

Researchers from Harvard and the University of California have found that social interactions play a role in physical and emotional health. Through their evaluations of the Framingham Heart Study, scientists concluded that it is not only family members who maintain a strong influence on a person’s weight and happiness but — also by a large degree — one’s social network of friends.

Scientific American notes a study in which researchers found that overweight students had a 40 percent chance of losing weight within a year vs. only 27 percent of gaining weight if these students had lean friends. And borderline obese students increased their chance of weight gain to 56 percent over a year if they had obese friends (lowering their chance of dropping pounds to only a 15 percent chance).

Because scientists suspect that one’s social networks influence what a member perceives as normal, it’s important to consciously model behaviors after friends who practice healthy habits and positive attitudes. This is not to say that you should give up or spend any less time with specific people, but rather remain aware of any unhealthy habits others are engaging in that may be affecting your own choices.

Also, if you are working toward specific health goals, group support can help even more. According to the American Psychological Association, enlisting family and friends may very well increase your success. In one study, participants who enrolled in a weight-loss program with friends did a better job of keeping their weight off, and two-thirds who enrolled with friends kept their weight off six months after the meetings ended vs. only a quarter of those who attended on their own.

With this understanding of how productive group support can be, GE has launched an app (available on Facebook) called HealthyShare app. HealthyShare makes group support both accessible and fun because people who are already interacting with friends online continue to do so with the added benefit of supporting each other toward healthier and happier lives. After installing the HealthyShare app, people can commit to healthy choices, share their journeys with friends and provide encouragement to each other.

Click here for more information on HealthyShare and other “Healthymagination” applications, and join the HealthyShare conversation on Twitter at @healthyshare.

No matter whether you install an app or join a group, it’s important to remember that we do influence each other. So take in the positive, and give out the positive: You’ll not only be increasing your own health, but also the well-being of your friends — who, in turn, will positively influence their social network!

— Tracy Shawn, M.A., is both a fiction and freelance writer. Her latest flash fiction can be found in the current issue of Literary Brushstrokes. Her debut novel is in production with Cherokee McGhee Publishing. Click here for more information about Shawn. Follow her on Twitter: @TracyShawn.

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