For many consumers, it’s typical to consult your doctor when looking to assess your overall health and wellness. Now, researchers are suggesting you should also look to your friend group, as the people you spend the most time with could be great indicators of your physical health.
“We were interested in the topology of the social network -- what does my position within my social network predict about my health and well-being?” said researcher Nitesh V. Chawala.
“What we found was the social network structure provides a significant improvement in the predictability of wellness states of an individual over just using the data derived from wearables, like the number of steps or heart rate.”
More than just a Fitbit
The researchers were inspired to study the effect of friend groups on personal health due to the popularity of wearable health devices like Fitbits and Apple Watches.
All participants included in the study, consisting of nearly 700 Notre Dame University freshman, were given a Fitbit to track their steps, heart rate, activity level, and sleep; they also had an app installed on their phones to track their communication and interaction with fellow study participants, as well as other friends outside of the study.
In addition to the technological aspect, the participants completed a survey that gauged their overall wellness levels, which asked questions about their stress, attitude, happiness, and how they view their own health. Armed with the data, the researchers wanted to find out if the participants’ sociability played a role in their health outcomes.
They ultimately discovered that the participants’ social circle was imperative to determining their overall health; looking at only one variable independently wasn’t an accurate representation of their wellness.
“This study asserts that without social network information, we only have an incomplete view of an individual’s wellness state, and to be fully predictive or to be able to derive interventions, it is critical to be aware of the social network structural features as well,” said Chawala.
Previous research has shown consumers can boost their health by having consistent social support. Researchers from Ohio State University recently found that for those benefits are hard to come by for those with low self-esteem.
For those with higher self-esteem, the benefits were continuous and consistent, whereas those with lower self-esteem were found to struggle in this area.
“People with a negative self-view may actually feel more stress when people try to help them,” said researcher Baldwin Way. “They may feel they don’t deserve the help or they worry that they’re asking for too much from their friends and family. The result is that they may not get the benefits of social support.”