Health Team

Healthier lifestyles have a ripple effect

Posted November 20, 2008 5:25 p.m. EST
Updated November 23, 2008 4:04 p.m. EST

Bad health habits can be contagious. People start smoking to fit in with friends, and parents who overeat often have overweight children.

However, good health habits are contagious, too, and many employers are banking on that to help contain rising health care costs.

Whether it is kicking a bad habit, working out more or eating healthier, you may be influenced more by the people you see every day, like at work.

“We found if a co-worker of yours loses weight, it increases your probability of losing weight,” said Dr. Nicolas Christakis, with Harvard Medical School.

Christakis studies the science of social networks. He found that when one person adopts a healthier lifestyle, it has a ripple effect.

“The benefits of those changes are typically much larger than the employer or anyone else appreciates,” Christakis said.

The employer can help get the ball rolling with workplace wellness programs that can save on health care costs.

At a recent Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina health summit, leaders said too many employers are slow to implement those programs, even though the most popular ones aren't costly.

“Put healthier options in the vending machines, people will take them and, in fact, appreciate them,” said Dr. Don Bradley, chief medical officer with BCBSNC.

Only 35 percent of employers offer physical activity during the workday, while 61percent offer paid time off for doctor's visits or health care needs.