19 Jan Buddy System May You Swap Bad Habits For Good Ones
Medical Research: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?
Dr. Wardle: Previous studies have shown that couples tend to have similar health behaviours to one another, but no studies had compared having a partner who takes up a healthy behaviour (e.g. quits smoking) with having one whose behaviour is consistently healthy (e.g. never smoked). Nor have there been other studies in the older age group – our participants were over 60 on average. We used data from 3722 couples participating in the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA) to explore this issue for three behaviours: smoking, physical activity, and weight loss. For each behaviour, we found that when one partner changed their behaviour, the other partner was more likely to make a positive change, and the effect was stronger than having a partner whose behaviour was consistently healthy (i.e. never smoked/always exercised).
Medical Research: What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?
Dr. Wardle: We know from decades of research that information alone is not enough to get everyone to take up a healthy lifestyle. Changing together may make things easier. Perhaps clinicians could encourage people to bring their spouse in too. Your nearest and dearest may be your best buddy – but where that’s not an option, perhaps another buddy system could help people to swap their bad habits for healthier ones.
Medical Research: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?
Dr. Wardle: This study is observational – in that we compared couples where the partner changed with couples where they didn’t. Future research needs to test this in a trial – can we harness the partner effect in treatment. And can we identify what is important about the partner effect to translate to other potential buddies?