Buddy System May You Swap Bad Habits For Good Ones

Jane Wardle University College London MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Jane Wardle
University College London

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?


Sarah E. Jackson, Andrew Steptoe, Jane Wardle. The Influence of Partner’s Behavior on Health Behavior Change. JAMA Internal Medicine, 2015;
DOI: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2014.7554

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Last Updated on January 19, 2015 by Marie Benz MD FAAD