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Providing perspectives on recent research into vitamins and nutritionals


Friends and Family Influence Your Health: For Better or Worse

By Michael McBurney

Who doesn’t want to be healthy? In an effort to be healthier, we often purchase gym memberships, buy exercise equipment and join weight loss programs. Many will use dietary supplements to ensure nutrient adequacy. However it is hard to change habits, especially if family and friends don’t share similar goals.

Using prospective data from adult (≥ 50y) married and cohabiting couples (n = 3,722), Jackson and colleagues examined the influence of partner’s behavior on making positive health behavior changes. They found that it is easier to adopt healthier behaviors when others do as well. The odds ratios (OR) for improving health behaviors are pretty staggering: smoking (~ 11-fold), physical activity (~5-fold), and weight loss (~3-fold). Having a partner who consistently practices healthy behaviors is helpful but there is hope for changing behaviors as well. When one partner changed smoking habits or increased physical activity, the chances of the other partner following suit was impressive: 3-5x for smoking, ~2x for increasing physical activity, and ~2-3x for weight loss. Our partners influence us. People role model for each other. This is very powerful.

Smoking and inadequate physical activity are the unhealthiest of behaviors. They impact our health more than diet. Smoking increases the risk of lung disease 12-17 fold. Living with someone who smokes ≥20 cigarettes daily, increases risk of lung cancer ~2.4 fold (vs living with a non-smoking partner). Just through passive and indirect exposure.

Prescription medications aren’t nearly as effective in reducing risk. Drugs changes risk but not by 1, 2, or 10 fold. A person without established cardiovascular disease prescribed a statin drug has a 10% reduced risk of a cardiovascular event (vs no statin use). When someone is prehypertensive and blood pressure medication is prescribed, the risk of stroke is reduced by 22% (vs placebo). This is a relative risk (RR) = 0.78 (or less than 1-fold change).

Surround yourself with people practicing healthy behaviors. People who don’t smoke, exercise regularly, maintain a healthy weight, and take steps to meet daily nutrient requirements. These actions will have a much greater effect on health outcome than any drug.

Main Citation

Jackson SE, Steptoe A, Wardle J. The influence of partner’s behavior on health and behavior change: The English Longitudinal Study of Ageing. 2015 JAMA Intern Med doi: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2014.7554

Other Citations

Brugts JJ, Yetgin T, Hoeks SE, Gotto AM, Shepherd J, Westendorp RGJ, de Craen AJM, Knopp RH, Nakamura H, Ridker P, van Domburg R, Deckers JW. The benefits of statins in people without established cardiovascular disease but with cardiovascular risk factors: meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. 2009 Br Med J doi: 10.1136/bmj.b2376

Sipahi I, Swaminathan A, Natesan V, Debanne SM, Simon DI, Fang JC. Effect of antihypertensive therapy on incident stroke in cohorts with prehypertensive blood pressure levels. 2012 Stroke doi: 10.1161/STROKEAHA.111.636829

Ford ES, Bergmannn MM, Boeing H, Li C, Capewell S. Healthy lifestyle behaviors and all-cause mortality among adults in the United States. 2012 Prev Med doi: 10.1016/j.ypmed.2012.04.016

Hirayama T. Non-smoking wives of heavy smokers have a higher risk of lung cancer: a study from Japan. 2000 Bull World Health Org doi: 10.1590/S0042-96862000000700013