AI: Friends and Your Health
Surfing the web for news this morning, I found this story in the New York Times. The itemÂ is related toÂ the Framingham Heart Study, the nationâ€™s most ambitious project to understand heart disease. Founded in 1948 by the National Heart Institute, the study has followed more than 15,000 Framingham, MAÂ residents and their descendants, bringing them in every four years or so,Â for a comprehensive physical. Over the decades, the Framingham study has yielded a gold mine of information about risk factors for heart disease; it was instrumental, for instance, in identifying the positive role of â€œgoodâ€ cholesterol.
Now, a pair of social scientists named Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler claim to have made yet another discovery using the Framingham data. Christakis and Fowler say, they have found some solid basis for a potentially powerful theory in epidemiology: that good behaviors â€” like quitting smoking or staying slender or being happy â€” pass from friend to friend almost as if they were contagious viruses. Apparently, in addition to genes, diet, etc., good health is also a product of your sheer proximity to other healthy people.
The data, they say,Â suggests we canÂ influence one anotherâ€™s health just by socializing.
Of course, according to their analysis, the same is true of bad behaviors â€” groups of friends appear to “infect” each other with obesity, unhappiness and smoking.
Do you see any holes in the analysis? What is the overall health level of your regular crew of friends? Do you think they, as a collective,Â ”infect” you where health is concerned?
The Afternoon Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Skepchick community. Look for it to appear daily at 3pm ET.