We all tend to hang out with like-minded people, those who make us feel comfortable and share our values. So if your values center around a sedentary lifestyle and lots of food, you’re likely to associate with people who share that lifestyle. Most of us already have a good understanding of how weight impacts important health markers such as cholesterol, blood sugar, and blood pressure. We now know our weight is affected by shared lifestyle choices.
As a person loses weight, they usually start to notice other benefits they hadn’t imagined, like fitting into seats at the movies, improved energy, and better endurance. But there’s another benefit that doesn’t quite get the attention it deserves: the halo effect. The halo effect refers to a phenomenon that occurs when a person impacts the behaviors of those around them in a positive way, usually by losing weight or making healthy self-improvements. By embarking on their own weight loss journey, a person can have a far-reaching positive impact on everyone around them. Research shows that when a person loses weight, their family members, close friends, and even coworkers are more likely to lose weight as well. Eating habits have a ripple effect.
A lot of studies on this effect involve families because the act of eating is a social event that ties families together. People pass down things like how to cook and prepare food, what’s selected, portion sizes, dessert options, traditions and cooking styles to new generations. Unfortunately, families also pass down less than ideal eating habits and food choices.
Dr. John Morton, who directs Bariatric Surgery at Stanford Hospital & Clinics, calls obesity a “family disease.” He decided to do a formal study and track families of 35 patients who had gastric bypass. One year after the surgery, he found that other overweight and obese family members had lost weight too, between 8 and 45 pounds. An incredible impact since we now know 10 to 15 pounds is a lot in terms of health benefit – just a 5 percent weight loss reduces the risk for heart disease and diabetes significantly.
“This was noteworthy in that these patients were able to accomplish that just by coming to the same visits that the bariatric surgery patient did,” he says. “I think most of the family members who came wanted to help out their spouse, parent, whoever it might be, they wanted to support them in making healthier food choices and exercising together.”
Health providers already know that genetics play a key role in weight. To what extent? It’s hard to say. Is family weight gain caused by shared environmental habits or does it come from DNA? Probably a little bit of both, but pinpointing the how’s and why’s isn’t exactly simple.
Studies on the halo effect show that although a person can’t change genetics, they can have a positive effect on those around them and possibly even change long-term habits for the better. We know this “halo effect” can negatively impact those around people who drink alcohol, smoke, and gain weight. Now it’s been shown to have the same effect when people around them quit smoking, drinking or lose weight too. Their courage and commitment compel others to quit.
Still, this goes way beyond physical health alone.
Think about all the qualities a person gains or improves upon when they drop a few pounds:
This doesn’t imply that overweight folks lack motivation or confidence, but losing weight takes a lot of hard work and determination. It’s a remarkable challenge that takes immense effort and perseverance. As a person loses weight, their positive attitudes and results rub off on everyone around them from coworkers to family members. When someone feels good about themselves, other people notice and they want to feel that way, too. Start at home. Make meals that encourage healthier eating choices and habits that will benefit everyone. You may even impact those well beyond the house.