Posted by: molander | November 28, 2009

The Company You Keep

“Are Your Friends Making You Fat” is an interesting article published in the New York Times back in September 2009. Sounds far-fetched but the science is right on the money.

It seems that in 1948, the National Heart Institute began “the nation’s most ambitious project to understand the roots of heart disease”. Dubbed the Framingham Heart Study, it followed 15,000 residents and their descendants and “has yielded a gold mine of information.” Check this quote:

[The Framingham Heart study found] that good behaviors — like quitting smoking or staying slender or being happy — pass from friend to friend almost as if they were contagious viruses. The Framingham participants, the data suggested, influenced one another’s health just by socializing. And the same was true of bad behaviors — clusters of friends appeared to “infect” each other with obesity, unhappiness and smoking.

Whoa… you mean to tell me my mother was right about peer pressure? Of course! A more grown-up term that also happens to be politically correct is “cultural influence.” What becomes “normal” to you is whatever you see on a regular basis. This applies to fashion, speech, educational goals, and any other lifestyle choices including eating and exercise.

Case in point: traditional Christmas fare around the world. What’s normal to us here in the South (USA) may be weird to someone from upstate New York…or the UK or the Dominican Republic or Russia or… well, you get the picture. (Here’s a great list of traditional Christmas foods served ’round the world if you’re interested.) Personally, I don’t want to see pickled herring and rutabaga casserole on my Christmas Eve table but if I grew up in Finland I’d probably be thrilled with those treats! Simply put, it would have been my norm.

Among its many amazing features, the human body allows our tastes to change! I honestly couldn’t care less if I ever eat a fast food hamburger again. Really. My husband no longer craves the floured, deep fried hamburger patties his mother called “double-goods.” (That hurts me to simply type that description.) Don’t get me wrong! We still get excited about food but our tastes have changed dramatically over the years. And a better benefit is that our kids won’t be worried about making these changes when they hit their 40s like the majority of Americans are doing today. It has become our norm.

Look around at the company you keep. Is there a need for you be the catalyst for change?

“It’s not that some people have willpower and some don’t. It’s that some people are ready to change and others are not.” — James Gordon, M.D.

Other recommended reading on this subject:

Paul’s Health Blog

Time Magazine Article “How Friends Make You Fat”

NPR Story “Are Your Friends Making You Fat?”

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