Q: How much influence do our friends and family have on our eating habits and activity level?
A: Recently, The Cooper Institute, a nonprofit research and education center based in Dallas, shared a couple of studies that pertain to this topic on their Web site at www.standupandeat.org.
The first study that I found intriguing was one published in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine this year. It found that children as young as 2 years old form eating preferences based on their parents’ food choices. In the study, 120 children (ages 2 to 6) were asked to select foods from a miniature grocery store, which included a variety of foods and beverages classified as least healthy, somewhat healthy and mostly healthy. The study also asked the children’s parents about how often they purchased the specific foods in the store.
• 70.8% of the children purchased foods that were categorized as least healthy choices.
• Only 10.8% of the children had shopping baskets consisting of the healthiest choices.
• On average, children in the group with the least healthy choices purchased the same number of healthier and less healthy products, whereas children in the group with the most healthy choices purchased five healthier products for each less healthy product selected.
• The healthfulness of the children’s total purchases were significantly predicted by their parents’ purchasing categorization.
The researchers concluded that, “Children begin to mimic their parents’ food choices at a very young age, even before they are able to fully appreciate the implications of these choices.” Thus, taking children to the grocery store and showing them that the family buys healthy foods can instill healthy food purchasing habits for children of all ages.
Another new research study from Harvard University indicates that who we socialize with greatly influences our eating behaviors, physical activity and weight status. In this study, weight and height data from more than 12,000 socially interconnected adults who had participated in the Framingham Heart Study were analyzed.
Researchers found that thin and overweight people tended to be clustered together, and that a person’s odds of becoming obese increased by 57 percent if he or she had a friend who became obese over a certain time interval. Additionally, if one sibling became obese, the chances that the other sibling would also become obese increased by 40 percent, and if a spouse became obese, the other spouse had a 37 percent increased likelihood of following suit.
The study also found that social networks were more influential than geographic location and that people of the same gender had a greater influence on each other than people of the opposite gender.
So what does all of this mean? Having obese friends and family members may cause you to change your tolerance for being obese or influence your adoption of unhealthy weight-related behaviors like overeating or being sedentary. In other words, you may unconsciously say to yourself, “I see you’ve gained weight, it is OK for me to gain weight.”
Thus, the problem of obesity cannot be addressed just at the individual level. Social ties within families, neighborhoods, communities, workplaces and schools should be targeted as a means to spread healthy (vs. less healthy) attitudes and behaviors about weight, eating and physical activity.
Q: In preparation for Thanksgiving, I searched high and low on the Web for some healthy recipes to make. I became very frustrated. Do you have any suggestions?
A: Here are three Web sites that I use to find healthy recipes. All three include the nutritional values of the recipes. Plus, there are many vegetarian recipes in these web sites as well. Hope you’ll like them!
— Susan Krumm is an Extension agent in family and consumer sciences with K-State Research and Extension-Douglas County, 2110 Harper St. She can be reached at 843-7058.