Partners Can Help Each Other Make Positive Health Behavior Changes


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JAMA Internal Medicine

Women and men were more likely to quit smoking, become physically active and lose weight if their partner joined them in the new healthy behavior, according to a study published online by JAMA Internal Medicine.

Modifiable lifestyles and health-related behaviors are the leading causes of morbidity and mortality worldwide. Evidence suggests people tend to exhibit the health behaviors of people around them and that partners can influence each other’s behavior, according to the study background.

Sarah E. Jackson, Ph.D., of University College London, England, and coauthors examined the influence of a partner’s behavior on making positive health behavior changes. The authors used data from 3,722 married couples and those living together who participated in the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing. Smoking cessation, increased physical activity and a 5 percent or greater weight loss were measured.

The authors found that when one partner changed to a healthier behavior the other partner was more likely to make a positive behavior change than if their partner remained unhealthy [(smoking: men 48 percent vs. 8 percent; women 50 percent vs. 8 percent), (increased physical activity: men 67 percent vs. 26 percent; women 66 percent vs. 24 percent) and (weight loss: men 26 percent vs. 10 percent; women 36 percent vs. 15 percent)].

Smokers with consistently nonsmoking partners and physically inactive people with consistently active partners had higher odds of quitting smoking and becoming physically active. Having an unhealthy partner in either of these cases who became newly healthy made the odds even higher for making a positive change, according to the results.

However, the results indicate that for overweight individuals, having partners whose body-mass index (BMI) was consistently in the normal range did not increase the odds of losing weight, but having an overweight partner who lost weight too was associated with three times the odds of weight loss.

For each health behavior, men and women were significantly more likely to make positive changes if their partner also changed their health behavior over the same period than if their partner was consistently healthy, according to the study.

“The present findings have implications for the design and delivery of interventions aimed at reducing the risk of morbidity and mortality. Given that partners have a mutual influence on one another’s behavior, behavior change interventions could be more effective if they targeted couples as opposed to individuals,” the study concludes.

(JAMA Intern Med. Published online January 19, 2015. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2014.7554. Available pre-embargo to the media at

Editor’s Note: Authors made funding/support disclosures. Please see the article for additional information, including other authors, author contributions and affiliations, financial disclosures, funding and support, etc.

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