Teaming Up Means Slimming Down

Weight loss is more likely if people band together

(RxWiki News) Looking to shed some pounds? Recruit some friends and make it a contest - chances are, you'll have a much better chance of getting rid of that extra weight.

A recent study revealed that people who competed in teams to lose weight in a statewide online contest were more successful if their teammates were successful and encouraging.

"Join friends in losing weight for better success."

Tricia Leahey, Ph.D., led the study with other researchers from The Miriam Hospital's Weight Control and Diabetes Research Center and The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University.

"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," Leahey said.

The researchers investigated the results of the 2009 Shape Up Rhode Island campaign, a statewide online weight loss competition that ran for 12 weeks.

Co-author Dr. Rajiv Kumar, M.D., designed the competition, which included three divisions: weight loss, physical activity and pedometer steps.

Individuals participated in the competition with teams, and 3,330 overweight or obese participants, defined as having a body mass index of 31.2 or higher, took part.

The 987 teams had between 5 and 11 members each, and most participated in all three divisions of the contest.

A person's team ended up being a major factor in how much weight individual competitors lost. Those who lost at least 5 percent of their initial body weight were usually on the same teams.

Further, participants on teams with more people competing in the weight loss division tended to lose more weight.

In addition, those who said their teammates played a part in helping them lose weight had a 20 percent greater likelihood of losing a significant amount of weight themselves (at least 5 percent of their body weight).

"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," Leahey said.

The social effect - where individuals said their teammates' role was important to helping them lose weight - was the most significant team characteristic, the researchers said.

"This is the first study to show that in these team-based campaigns, who's on your team really matters," Leahey said. "Being surrounded by others with similar health goals all working to achieve the same thing may have really helped people with their weight loss efforts."

The takeaway, she said, is that peer pressure can work when it comes to getting in shape.

"If we can harness this positive peer pressure and these positive social influences, we can create a social environment to help encourage additional weight loss," she said.

Individual characteristics that played a part in the amount of weight loss included the person's starting weight and their role within the team.

Obese participants lost a greater percentage of weight than their overweight peers, and team captains tended to lose more weight than their teammates.

The research was published online February 14 in the journal Obesity. No information was available regarding funding.

Kumar is the founder and chairman of Shape Up Rhode Island, and he and another author are co-founders of Shape Up, Inc. No other authors declared any competing interests.