People who commit to lose weight aren’t just helping themselves, they are helping others around them too.

That’s the finding of a new University of Connecticut study that tracked the weight loss progress of 130 couples over six months. Researchers from the University of Connecticut found that when one person of a relationship commits to losing weight, it significantly increased the chances of the other person in the relationship losing weight too, even if they were not participating in a weight loss intervention. They found that one-third of the partners (not-committed to weight loss) lost 3 percent or more of their starting body weight after six months even though they did not participate in any active exercise and three percent loss of body weight is considered a measurable health benefit.

The study’s lead investigator, UConn Professor Amy Gorin, calls it a “ripple effect.”

“When one person changes their behavior, the people around them change,” says Gorin, a behavioral psychologist. “Whether the patient works with their healthcare provider, joins a community-based, lifestyle approach like Weight Watchers, or tries to lose weight on their own, their new healthy behaviors can benefit others in their lives.”

This study found that the speed at which couples lost weight is interlinked, meaning that if one member lost weight at a steady pace, their partner did too.

“How we change our eating and exercise habits can affect others in both positive and negative ways,” says Gorin, who studies environmental and social factors influencing weight loss. “On the positive side, spouses might emulate their partner’s behaviors and join them in counting calories, weighing themselves more often, and eating lower-fat foods.”

Previous findings of a weight loss ripple effect were limited to patients who participated in closely monitored, clinic-based interventions and those who had bariatric surgery. Most of those studies relied on couples self-reporting their weight loss, raising the possibility of error.

 

Journal Reference for “Scientists identify weight loss ripple effect”:

  1. Amy A. Gorin, Erin M. Lenz, Talea Cornelius, Tania Huedo-Medina, Alexis C. Wojtanowski, Gary D. Foster. Randomized Controlled Trial Examining the Ripple Effect of a Nationally Available Weight Management Program on Untreated SpousesObesity, 2018; DOI: 10.1002/oby.22098