A new global study finds that family and social networks play as strong a role on an individual’s health as do health professionals.
Researchers discovered that after “themselves,” nearly half (43 percent) of respondents believe that their friends and family have the most impact on their lifestyle as it relates to health, and more than a third (36 percent) believe friends and family have the most impact on personal nutrition.
Researchers also found that people who model a healthier lifestyle fail to connect actively with others who may benefit from their example, knowledge and support. That is, nearly one third of people (31 percent) – predominantly those with healthier behaviors – tend to distance themselves from friends who engage in unhealthy behaviors.
In a larger group –composed of people who do not let health status or health behavior influence their social interactions (44 percent) — less healthy behavior is the norm with participants consuming less health information, and often failing to sustain healthy behavior change when they try.
The multi-national study consisted of more than 15,000-people living in 12 countries. It found that social relationships have a great influence on health status.
“Whether we mean to or not, we influence public and personal health in all aspects of our lives,” said Nancy Turett, global president, health, for Edelman public relations.
“Health – good and bad — is communicable, and it is the responsibility of every citizen, especially those of us with leadership roles in any sector or industry, to act on this.”
The Edelman Health Barometer 2011 global survey was conducted by Edelman’s research firm StrategyOne and consisted of online and face-to-face interviews. It looks at what drives health-related behavior and how business can benefit from promoting health.
The survey reveals an “action gap” between the desire to be healthier and the ability to change.
More than half of the global public engages in at least one negative health behavior, such as poor nutrition, lack of exercise or tobacco use. Though 62 percent of respondents said they tried to change a negative health behavior, half of those people failed, primarily because of addiction/dependency, a lack of enjoyment or absence of an immediate reward.
The lack of ongoing support from friends, family or other resources, also contributed to an inability to make healthy changes stick.
“Individuals have a powerful influence not just over their own health but also those around them,” said Nick Fahy, senior health policy advisor to Edelman.
“We must be aware of the impact that we can have. Just as poor health choices can be spread through social networks, so can good ones.”
According to the study, new digital tools can be leveraged to support health-positive behaviors.
Fifty-one percent of respondents said they turn to digital sources such as social networks for information when making health decisions.
However, researchers discovered that only 20 percent of the public are currently using tools, devices and apps to manage or track their own health. Nevertheless, 68 percent of those who do use these technologies say they have improved their health.
Respondents clearly articulated that individuals, family, friends and nongovernment organizations play a much larger impact on their health and lifestyle than do employers and government.
Globally, 82 percent of respondents believe it is important for business to improve and maintain the health of the public – yet only 32 percent said business is currently doing a good job.
Source: Edelman Public Relations