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Health Capsules
July 2008
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Social Ties Affect Smoking Behavior

Spouses, friends, siblings and co-workers usually decide to light up or stub out their cigarettes for good at around the same time, a new study has found.  A better understanding of how social ties affect smoking behavior may lead to more effective ways to prevent or reduce smoking.

While smoking rates have fallen over the past 4 decades, it remains the leading cause of preventable death in the United States.  Previous studies have shown that social ties between 2 people—especially young people—can influence decisions to start or stop smoking.  But the effects of more complex social groups have been unclear.

NIH-funded researchers at Harvard Medical School and the University of California, San Diego examined medical records and other data from more than 12,000 adults who had participated in the Framingham Heart Study, a long-term study sponsored by NIH.  The researchers were able to track changes in social relationships over more than 3 decades, from 1971 to 2003, because people in the study regularly updated information about their family, friends and coworkers.

At the beginning of the study, smokers tended to mix equally with nonsmokers.  By 2000, smoking in the group had declined, mirroring the national downward trend.  There was also another change.  The smokers and nonsmokers divided into separate clusters as the study progressed.  Eventually, the smokers were on the fringes of the network, with fewer social ties to others.

Close relationships seemed to exert a strong influence on smoking.  The greatest effect was in married couples.  When a husband or wife quit smoking, it reduced the chance of their spouse smoking by about 67%.  When a sibling quit, it reduced the chance of smoking in a brother or sister by 25%.  Influences from friends and coworkers fell in between.

Last year, the scientists reported on the spread of obesity within the same study group.  This research suggests that it may be possible to harness social networks to help people change behaviors that affect their health, such as smoking, for the better.

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Smokers Band Together and Quit Together:


Smoking: It's Never Too Late to Stop

Friends and Family May Play a Role in Obesity

  Eating Well as You Get Older

How should you eat as you get older?  Which foods are likely to keep you most healthy and which ones should you limit?  Is it possible to eat well and stay within a healthy weight?

Your need for healthy foods doesn’t diminish with age.  As we age, our bodies still require essential nutrients, most of which are found in foods.

“Eating well is vital at any age, but as you get older, your daily food choices can make an important difference in your health,” says Dr. Richard J. Hodes, director of NIH’s National Institute on Aging (NIA).  Eating a well-planned, balanced mix of healthy foods every day may help prevent heart disease, type 2 diabetes, bone loss, some kinds of cancer and anemia.

However, eating healthy may not always be easy for older adults.  Changing appetites, slower metabolism, eating alone, buying ready-to-eat meals and living on a fixed income can all affect the quality of your food choices. 

These and other questions are addressed in Eating Well as You Get Older, the latest topic to be added to NIHSeniorHealth, the health and wellness Web site developed by NIA and NIH’s National Library of Medicine.

In addition to learning how to make wise food choices, older adults who visit the web pages will find information about food labels, food safety, meal planning, food shopping and ways to enhance the enjoyment of eating.

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Eating Well As You Get Older


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Time to Talk

Nearly two-thirds of older Americans use some form of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), but less than one-third discuss it with their doctors. Doctors need to know about everything you are doing to manage your health. This web site has tips about talking openly to your health care provider about all of your health care practices.

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