A recent study by researchers at the University of Connecticut has shown that when one partner loses weight and adopts a healthier lifestyle, the other partner is likely to lose weight too.
The study, which was published in the journal Obesity, looked at weight loss programs of around 130 couples over half a year.
They found that when one partner is committed to losing weight and achieving their goals, chances are that the other partner will also lose some weight, despite not setting themselves the goal.
A three percent weight loss is considered to be significantly important in terms of health benefit. The study found that one third of the partners of the weight watchers lost 3 percent or more weight without making any efforts at weight loss.
The study’s lead author, Amy Gorin, a behavioral psychologist at the University of Connecticut, called it a “ripple effect”.
When one person changes their behavior, the people around them change. 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.” Professor Amy Gorin, Lead Author and Behavioral Psychologist at the University of Connecticut.
They looked at cohabiting couples (married or otherwise) and assessed them for three to six months. They divided the couples into two halves. One of the groups was the weight watcher groups where one member of the couple was part of a structured six-month weight loss program.
These people were provided in-person counseling along with on-line help to assist and track weight loss. In the other group, a four page health advisory booklet on weight loss and healthy lifestyle was handed out, and further follow up was made over the period of the study.
At the end of the study, both the groups showed some weight loss. Interestingly, the partners of these individuals who successfully lost weight did so either on their own (from the health advisory) or with the help of the program (weight water group) showed weight loss.
The team noted that the rate at which one of the partners lost weight was proportional to the weight loss by the untreated partner. A steady loss in one partner meant a steady loss in the other too. When one of the partners hit a road block losing weight, the other faced a similar block too.
Gorin also looked at environmental and social factors that could affect weight loss. She noticed that eating habits, counting calories, eating low-fat foods and weighing oneself is an aped behavior that the partner is also taking part in.
Ripple effects are not new. They can be seen in patients who are participating in bariatric surgery interventions. However, this is the first study to suggest that a ripple effect can be seen with everyday diets.
According to Gorin, this ripple effect needs to be considered by treatment plans and healthcare providers advising people to lose weight, as other members of the family may gain benefit from dietary advice.
Researchers are now planning to expand the scope of this study to understand more about the ripple effect. They warn that the results were mostly self-reported and therefore likely to contain some errors.