This just in: Your social network may be making you fat. But it could help you quit smoking. And avoid an STD.

A new study out of the Harvard Medical School and UC San Diego looked at how people’s social circles affected their personal lives. Now, this research focused on real-world social networks, not the online kind. But I’d like to suggest the same findings can be applied to our web-based social world. Allow me to elaborate.

Finding #1

  • Real-World Research: One of the study’s key findings was that if a person’s friends all quit smoking, he’d be more likely to quit, too. So basically, people tend to follow the group and try to fit in, whether or not they realize they’re doing it.
  • Online Application: Is there any other explanation for the endless sea of glitter graphics and obnoxious animations on profile pages? No one can enjoy looking at that garbage. But because others in the social circle have it, people follow suit and set it up, even if it does cause the occasional Flash-induced seizure.

Finding #2

  • Real-World Research: The study says we might now be able to “harness the power of these networks for many purposes, such as encouraging safe sex,” according to the Washington Post.
  • Online Application: Uh, yeah…I mean, come on, fellas. Any web site that can take a seemingly normal person and turn him into an acronym-spouting, web-obsessed avatar is doing a damned fine job of intercourse control. Now, admittedly, the times are a changin’. Gone are the days when spending your life online marks you as a socially inept, sexually awkward goon. MySpace is full of millions of pre-teens who spend their every free moment surfing the site, and if we believe the research, most of those middle schoolers have scored more tail by age 12 than most of us did in all of college. This study, though, looked at data from people over the age of 30, so we can exclude those horny little buggers from our discussion.

Finding #3

  • Real-World Research: The scientists learned that what happens in your social network has a significant impact on what happens to your health. One discovery was that “obesity appear(s) to spread from one person to another through social networks, almost like a virus or fad.”
  • Online Application: Hmm. So what you’re telling me is that people who sit in front of their computers all day tend to get overweight? And it happens to their other online friends avoiding exercise, too? Well, hand me a hoagie and call me Melvin. I had no idea.

The Final Word

There’s something to be learned from this study. If we know that others’ influence, online or otherwise, can cause us to develop habits like overeating, we can combat that — right? And if we realize that sitting in front of our computers all day doesn’t lead to hot women hunting us down, then we could log off and go out once in a while. I mean, it’s really quite simple.

My friends, it’s time for us to harness the power of our social circle and improve our lives. So give all this some thought and get back to me. I’ll be here, updating my MySpace page and eating a sandwich.

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