Role models are important in health as well as in life, but such inspiration is more likely to come from your mom than a celebrity like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, a new study says.

People had greater motivation to reach their health goals if they looked to a person in their everyday life – a friend, relative or health expert – as their role model for good health, rather than a celebrity, researchers found.

Women were more likely than men to choose such a personal role model over a celebrity, and their own mother was the person most often named, results show.

“We know that parents have a huge influence on shaping people’s health trajectories throughout their life just by teaching them about physical fitness and nutrition,” lead researcher Nicole O’Donnell, a Washington State University doctoral student in communications, said in a news release. “As this research shows, parents’ influence does matter and it’s long lasting, even well into adulthood.”

For the study, researchers surveyed more than 400 adults who said they were inspired by health role models.

Nearly two-thirds of those surveyed (64%) chose a family member, peer or acquaintance as a health role model, and many cited “perceived similarity” as the reason they chose to emulate someone close to them.

“If you see a friend get a gym membership, or decide to run a half marathon, you’re able to follow their journey, and you also have similar resources to be able to do the same thing,” O’Donnell said. “Celebrities often have personal chefs and trainers—they have a lot of resources that we don’t.”

Women were 2.5 times more likely to choose a personal role model than men, results show.

However, many men and women did choose celebrities as a role model. The most popular were The Rock, LeBron James, Tom Brady and Michelle Obama.

Even though personal role models had a stronger influence, celebrity role models also had an effect on a person’s motivation.

How celebrities talk about health issues can be very effective in swaying public perceptions, O’Donnell said.

“When celebrities and influencers talk about health, it’s important they also share their challenges and how they overcame them,” she said. “For instance, The Rock’s openness about depression helps to destigmatize mental health struggles and makes him a great role model.”

Social media can have an amplifying effect on the influence of a role model, whether they are regular folks or celebrities, results show.

“Our results found that following any sort of role model on social media will help boost your motivation,” co-researcher Christina Nickerson, a WSU doctoral candidate, said in a news release. “It shows there can be a lot of benefits just from thinking about what a role model is to you. Who do you want to be like whether you know that person in real life or not?”

The results also showed that having a health role model is good for a person. People surveyed who didn’t have such a role model reported lower mental and physical health than those who did.

“Look to those around for people who inspire you,” O’Donnell said. “It’s a form of social support that we often overlook because we think of role models as something for kids. But this study, along with others, has shown that role models are important across the person’s lifespan, so we should seek them out.”

The new study appears in the journal Health Communication.

More information

Harvard Medical School has more on healthy habits.

SOURCE: Washington State University, news release, June 25, 2024

Source: HealthDay

Comments are closed.