Do friends influence the way we eat, or did we learn our good or bad eating habits from the dinner table during childhood? Experts disagree on which influence has the most pull, but in the meantime, the differing arguments have well researched reasoning. However, we can learn from the concept that weight loss or gain happens in numbers. How can we leverage this knowledge to ensure that we build healthy lifestyles within optimal weight limits?

Whether learned behavior from friends or family, eating habits are highly contagious. According to research from Harvard University and the University of California, “obesity may be passed like a virus from person to person via social networks, based on their analysis of research on more than 12,000 participants who were followed for 32 years.”

Opposing arguments say that weight is a product of family conditioning. Other researchers “developed their own mathematical model using adult and adolescent sibling data in an effort to better understand the role of genetic predisposition and habits formed during childhood on adult body weight.”

Whichever side of the argument you agree – or disagree – with, there is no denying that people today suffer from weight struggles. The irony is, very few people actually think they are fat. But the truth is that 2/3 of us are. Have you ever wondered why this is? If you come from a fat family, you will have a different view of what is fat and what is not. In certain communities where 80% of the population is overweight, the smaller people are considered thin in that culture but would be seen as obese outside that culture.

It seems that the old adage “love is blind” is actually preventing healthy living here.

This is a sticky subject since we shy away from saying anything negative about family members. When is the last time that a kid said, “Mom, you are fat.” Consider another awkward situation in which Dad would be bold enough to say something to his daughter about her weight. How many men have gotten in trouble by answering honestly when their wife asked them, “Honey, do I look fat in this dress?”

So, how do we fix this serious health problem? Given that what we learn when we are young is ideal weight, we need to give more strategies to parents to talk to their kids about health and wellness via discussing weight. Communicating openly about proper portions sizes is important in our society of gorging and over eating. Discussions about healthy snacking will allow kids to think carefully about reaching for the fruit snack packages infused with sugar, instead of eating real live fruit.

But even more so, we need to educate parents about their own health habits so that the attitude of wellness is passed to the kids. As these kids grow up with healthy eating habits, they will be able to better recognize poor eating habits and avoid them – or possibly even the friends who engage in them.