Size Stalking – Social Networking’s Impact on Weight Loss

weight loss social networks - size stalkingA study published in the New England Journal of Medicine (July 26, 2007) has concluded that obesity can spread from person to person, reminiscent of a virus.  When one person gains weight, their friends tend to gain weight too. This effect also occurs with weight loss.

In a detailed study, researchers examined the social networks of 12,067 people, which had been followed for 32 years (from 1971 until 2003). This means those investigating knew details such as weight taken at various points during the 32 year period of neighbors, spouses, family members, friends and even friends of friends’ friends.


  • We are most likely to become obese when a friend becomes obese, increasing our chances of obesity by 57%.
  • The ultimate influence is that between mutual close friends. If our friend becomes obese this increases our chances of obesity by 171% – nearly doubling the risk!
  • Even if hundreds of miles separate friends, this effect remains.
  • Friends and siblings of the same sex appear to have a greater influence on weight gain/ loss than those of the opposite sex.
  • We are more influenced by those who resemble us.
  • Weight gain or weight loss in family members had a smaller effect compared to the influence of friends.
  • Weight gain or weight loss in neighbors had no effect.

Although the general trend in the study was that most people were gaining weight, the same effect was observed for weight loss.


If we identify a person as our friend, we hold that person in high regard, which in turn can affect our view of what we consider normal or acceptable. The study suggests that the ‘spreading’ of obesity has less to do with the imitation of our friend’s behavior and more to do with a change in our perception of what we consider to be the social norm in terms of how acceptable we regard obesity. Thus, when we observe our friends gaining weight, weight gain may become more acceptable in ourselves.


Since weight loss can be equally ‘caught’ as weight gain, focusing on what your slim friends are doing could provide an answer to many people’s weight loss conundrums.

  • Find a friend who is trim and healthy.
  • Make sure you share similar body types. There is no point copying someone who is an ectomorph (ultra-fast metabolism) and eating thousands of calories a day, when you are an endomorph (sluggish metabolism) and put on weight by simply looking at a burger.
  • Make sure your friend has healthy eating habits.
  • Ask your friend if you can do this. The most likely scenario is that they will be flattered and want to help.

When copying your friend, take note of points such as:

  • What’s in your friend’s fridge and kitchen cupboards?
  • What kind of foods does your friend eat for breakfast/ lunch/ dinner?
  • What does your friend snack on? This is important, since many people drop the ball when it comes to snacking.
  • Does your friend make his or her own pack lunch?
  • Where does your friend eat and what does he or she order when going out?
  • How/ where does your friend workout? How often? What classes? What is their technique? Have you got the right gear?
  • How hard does your friend workout? Compare it to what you have done previously: Were you really working out or simply watching TV or reading (this will always be a mystery), while on the treadmill?

Most importantly, learn about your friend’s mindset/ attitude.

  • Do you spend the same amount of time it would have taken to complete your workout, trying to get out of it?
  • What makes your friend refrain from eating that slice of chocolate cake?
  • Why is he or she so driven during their workout?
  • What do they say to themselves to get through a grueling 5 mile run?
  • If you can successfully copy your friend’s attitude, chances are that you will successfully lose weight.
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