Weight loss: How healthy lifestyle choices can be "contagious", according to science

If you start losing weight, your friends will be motivated to follow in your footsteps, according to this US study

Friends losing weight together
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Have you ever been inspired to make a positive health or weight loss change in your life after seeing the progress of someone you know? It's more common than you might think. A new study from Brown University and the Miriam Hospital and Alpert Medical School has found weight loss is actually "contagious" – after a fashion. 

Similar to the way we value word-of-mouth recommendations from our friends higher than online reviews for the best treadmill, seeing our friends make positive changes can inspire us to achieve those changes for ourselves. 

The researchers from Brown sought to study this phenomenon by looking at the progress of weight loss "teams" versus individual participants. Both groups achieved similar weight loss outcomes, but the study found "participants who said their teammates played a large role in their weight loss actually lost the most weight".

Friends practicing football together

(Image credit: Getty Images)

The message is clear: people who lose weight together and actively encourage each other do better than individuals.

"We know that obesity can be socially contagious, but now we know that social networks play a significant role in weight loss as well, particularly team-based weight loss competitions," said lead author Tricia Leahey, Ph.D..

"In our study, weight loss clearly clustered within teams, which suggests that teammates influenced each other, perhaps by providing accountability, setting expectations of weight loss, and providing encouragement and support."

It might seem like a challenge, given the current global health crisis making it difficult for households to meet. However, some of the best online personal trainer and fitness apps offer online group classes, allowing people from all over the world to work out together at the same time. if you can't go to the gym, bring the gym to you.

If you've got a group of friends looking to get fit in 2021, a Whatsapp or Discord group will also help. It creates a positive platform for the group to encourage, push and continue to challenge each other. It's a perfect way to implement the team-based social influence from the Brown study. 

Liked this?


Get Fit for 2021 with Fit&Well
As the sun rises on a brand new year, Fit&Well is here to help put last year behind you and make 2021 your happiest, healthiest yet. Here at fitandwell.com, we’ll be bringing you a wealth of workouts, diet plans and expert advice throughout January to help kick-start your health and fitness goals.

Matt Evans

Matt Evans is an experienced health and fitness journalist and is currently Fitness and Wellbeing Editor at TechRadar, covering all things exercise and nutrition on Fit&Well's tech-focused sister site. Matt originally discovered exercise through martial arts: he holds a black belt in Karate and remains a keen runner, gym-goer, and infrequent yogi. His top fitness tip? Stretch.