Viral Marketing in Wellness?

A study in the New England Journal of Medicine by James Fowler and Nicholas Christakis found some staggering results:

  1. When people become obese, the risk of their closest friends becoming obese over the next 2-4 years increases by 171%; risk for casual friends increases by 57%; siblings by 40%; and spouse by 37%.
  2. The reverse is true about shedding weight.
  3. The weight gain/loss has a more direct affect on friends and siblings of the same gender.

This should teach us all something (or at least give us a hypothesis upon which to start) for marketing wellness and promoting change in the US.  As companies do when they want to drive change in the business community, focus on the influencers and let them drive behavior.  Now the question is whether this works for smoking cessation and other healthcare issues.  But, obesity is correlated with lots of problems – diabetes, heart disease, etc.

The power of social or viral marketing is strong.  Thinking through this as we look to how we help patients is important.

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