The "ripple effect": Weight loss contagious among couples

March 19, 2018 in Nutrition Topics in the News, Weight Management

The "ripple effect": Weight loss contagious among couples

When one-half of a couple embraces good health, there’s a higher likelihood that the other half will, too, a recent study from the University of Connecticut in Storrs suggests. 

The concept, called the “ripple effect”, means that weight loss interventions delivered to one spouse have unintended, but positive benefits on the other spouse. In other words, spouses that are not actively involved in a weight loss program also tend to lose weight.

Couples committed to health tend to enhance each other’s motivation and adherence to diet and exercise-related behaviors. But the opposite is also true. If one partner becomes obese during the course of the relationship, there is a good chance the other will too, the study found. 

The new findings suggest, however, that just because one partner isn’t actively receiving weight loss guidance doesn’t necessarily mean he or she won’t reap the same rewards as the health-seeking significant other. 

About the study

The research team studied 128 co-habiting hetero and homosexual couples over a six-month period. Most couples were married. Everyone in the study was overweight or obese. 

Half of the couples were assigned to have one partner participate in the Weight Watchers diet program. That partner received 6 months of free access to in-person meetings and online tools including self-monitoring of food intake, activity and weight. A Weight Watchers support staff member was also available 24/7 if needed. 

In each of the remaining couples, one partner received a weight loss handout with basic information on healthy eating, physical activity and weight management strategies. 

Access to either program went to the person most interested in weight loss, while the other partner, irrespective of group, received nothing at all. 

Three months into the study, “treated” partners in the Weight Watchers group had lost more weight than treated partners in the self-guided group. By six months that difference had disappeared. 

Weight loss observed among “untreated” partners, too

Researchers were more interested, however, in how “untreated” partners fared. And in fact, the untreated partners lost weight, too, no matter which group they were assigned to. 

Non-dieting spouses lost an average of 1.3 kg (nearly 3 lb) at three months and 2 kg (about 4.5 lb) at month six, regardless of group. 

What’s more, by 6 months 32 per cent of non-dieting spouses in both groups had lost at least 3 percent of their initial body weight, the minimum for “successful” weight loss, based on obesity management guidelines. 

The researchers observed that weight-loss success between the “treated” and untreated partners were highly correlated. For example, if one couple member showed a higher likelihood of losing weight, so did the other member. The reverse was also true. 

The bottom line is that weight loss efforts spread and have effects beyond the individual. 

Source: Obesity, online February 1, 2018.

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