Thursday, July 26, 2007

Viral Obesity: Your Friends Could Make You Fat

Hanging out with fat people could make you fat concludes a study just released in the New England Journal of Medicine. (See Obesity Spreads In Social Circles As Trends Do, Study Indicates.)

Apparently, obesity is like a fad, spreading socially. Actually, this research makes a lot of sense, and goes a long way to explaining the obesity epidemic in America.

Part of what has happened is that obesity has become socially acceptable, at least among friends. In the study, your likelihood of becoming obese rises 171% if you are mutual friends with someone else who is obese (i.e., both you and that other person described each other as friends).

The relationship also works among relatives, but is not nearly as strong. Intuitively, we all know why that is: we have plenty of relatives we don't really like. But friends, hey, you choose them because you like them, and you often emulate them, apparently to the point of getting fat.

Evidently, it doesn't work the other way around--obese people don't decide to get thin by hanging around with thin friends. That's no surprise: hanging out with a friend and eating whatever and however much you want is FUN! (The same relationship probably works in terms of alcoholism; if your friend drinks, so do you.) It's just too bad that it leads to serious health problems.

If only life could be like that Albert Brooks movie, Defending Your Life, where Meryl Streep informs him that in heaven (or the world in between heaven and hell) you can eat whatever you want without gaining weight. Alas, real life isn't like that. So, if you want to stay thin, avoid making friends with someone on the large side.

No comments: