Friends and family top health influencers, says survey

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Underscoring the importance of social media in public health, patients say friends and family are as responsible for their health as are medical professionals, according to Edelman's 2011 Health Barometer study.

Nearly half of respondents (43%) to the global survey said that their friends and family have the biggest impact on their lifestyle with regards to health after themselves, and more than a third (36%) cited friends and family as top influencers when it comes to nutrition.

Edelman surveyed 15,000 people in 12 countries and found that friends and family uniformly rank high among influencers on a range of health-related topics.

Respondents rated doctors the most credible sources of health info (88%), followed by pharmacists (81%), nurses (77%) and nutritionists (75%). Company experts placed in the middle of the pack, with 62% calling them credible – a little less than “Someone living with a disease/condition (65%)” but better than friends and family (55%). Celebs placed dead last (17%), followed by CEOs (22%), and reporters weren't far ahead (29%).

The PR giant identified an “action gap” in the survey data between desire to be healthier and the ability to change. More than half of respondents said they engage in at least one unhealthy behavior, and while 62% said they'd tried to change, half of those patients failed, mainly due to addiction/dependency and lack of enjoyment or immediate reward, along with a lack of support.

“Individuals have a powerful influence not just over their own health but also those around them,” said Edelman's Nick Fahy, a former European Commission health official. “We must be aware fo the impact that we can have. Just as poor health choices can be spread through social networks, so can good ones.”

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