Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Obesity Socially Contagious?

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Obesity Socially Contagious?

Article excerpt

A new study suggests that obesity is "socially contagious," spreading from person to person in a social network. The research, the first to examine this phenomenon, finds that if one person becomes obese, those closely connected to him or her have a greater chance of becoming obese. Surprisingly, the greatest effect is seen not among people sharing the same genes or the same household, but among friends.

Researchers found that if a person you consider a friend becomes obese, your own chance of becoming obese increases 57%. Among mutual friends, the effect is stronger, with chances increasing 171%. Nicholas Christakis of Harvard Medical School (HMS) and James Fowler of the University of California, San Diego, also examined the influence of siblings, spouses, and neighbors. Among siblings, if one becomes obese, the likelihood for the other to become obese increases 40%; among spouses, 37%. No effect existed among neighbors, unless they were also friends.

Christakis and Fowler analyzed data over a period of 32 years for 12,067 adults who underwent repeated medical assessments as part of the Framingham Heart Study. The researchers were able to map a densely interconnected social network of the study's subjects using tracking sheets that recorded not only the subjects' family members, but also unrelated friends.

The network map took two years to assemble and includes information on the participants' body mass index. …

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