In this week’s issue of Time magazine, there’s an article about a weight loss program evangelical pastor Rick Warren — of Saddleback Church and “A Purpose Driven Life” fame — has started for his congregants.
The plan itself isn’t anything revolutionary — a combination of eating right and working out — but its effectiveness so far has been extraordinary. His congregation has lost a collective 260,000 pounds in just about a year and a half.
What makes the program so effective? Well, there’s a faith-based element to it, of course. (It’s called the Daniel Plan, after all, after a story in the Bible where Daniel and a few others refuse the meats at the king’s table in favor of fruits and vegetables.) So, maybe people are just more driven to achieve a goal when they think it’s something God would want.
But I really think the program’s secret sauce is peer pressure. In a fat and flabby America, where it’s easy to rationalize getting those super-sized fries because “everyone else is doing it,” the Daniel Plan has created a community where the opposite is true. Congregants know they’re going to see each other at least once a week, at church service. Additionally, participants are encouraged to break into small groups and hold each other accountable. The church also holds group exercises and sports events, and the plan’s website hosts success stories and online support. At Saddleback, if in few other places these days, it’s cool to be fit.
And I think that’s the key. If we have any hope of turning around the big, fat obesity wave that’s sweeping our nation, we need to achieve a wholesale cultural shift. And no Big Gulp ban, no scheme to list weights on kids’ report cards is going to do that. But old-fashioned peer pressure? That mysterious force that leads us to drink boxed wine in high school? To stamp out our cigarettes because everyone’s coughing and glaring at us? To not let Uncle Al get behind the wheel after having a few, because “Friends don’t let friends…”? I think it has a shot.
Which got me thinking about all the other things that could benefit from positive peer pressure — like buying life insurance. Right now, the industry seems to be stuck in a negative feedback loop. I have no research with which to back this up, but if people keep reading that life insurance coverage is at an all-time low, are they going to run out and get coverage? Or are they going to feel a little bit better about their own shaky life insurance situation because everybody else is in the same boat? I think that, for many, it’s the latter.
Peer pressure in the other direction, though, could change that. Just look at the success of referrals. When Neighbor Bob’s agent calls you, informing you that Bob just bought life insurance and asking if you’d like to do the same, wouldn’t you be more likely to do the responsible thing, knowing Bob just did?