Saturday, November 19, 2011

All I need is a little help from my friends...

Although my roommate has thus far been unable to convince me to join her at bikram yoga, a couple of news items this week attest to the powers of peer pressure in changing one’s lifestyle.

The first is a study out of Stanford about the families of patients who underwent gastric bypass surgery. The investigators found that obese family members of bariatric patients lost an average of 3% of their total weight in the first year following the surgery – this is equivalent to the amount of weight loss achieved on the average diet plan such as the Atkins diet. So although the family member wasn’t officially on the post-op bariatric diet, it is as if they were.

The second is a program called the “Daniel Plan” created by Rick Warren (best known for “The Purpose Driven Life”) at his church in California. Warren has used what he calls “the healing power of the group” to motivate members of his church to lose weight; he effectively utilizes the existing foundation of church small groups not only for spiritual growth but also physical betterment. The first point of his six-point program is to “connect” or create partnerships that foster positive change. Fourteen thousand people signed up and 72% lost weight. A survey found that participants lost nearly 7 more pounds following the plan in a group than they following the plan on their own.

Both of the above examples involve groups – either natural or constructed. What is fascinating about the Stanford study is that the weight loss was unintentional – it was purely a product of environment. The other interesting thing is that there is really nothing inherently special about either diet plan. What is amazing is the difference the support of a group makes in adhering to that plan. Not surprisingly, this has great implications for global and public health. It is one of the reasons why Alcoholics Anonymous and Partners in Health have been so successful.

Message to my roommate: if exercise is anything like nutrition, the stats are on your side! Eventually, I may succumb to your good example.

(Arch. Surg. 2011;146:1185-90)

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