Obesity contagious? You can almost hear John McEnroe screaming in disbelief ‘You can not be serious!’ It might sound a bit far-fetched, but a group of researchers at the Harvard Medical School are pretty convinced. What they do not mean is that you are all of a sudden going to put on weight after you've shaken the hand of someone who has a few more pounds round their middle than they should have.
The reason obesity's contagious doesn't lie in the fact that obese deliberately people find other obese people to hang out with, it's more because there is a direct causal relationship. In other words, a person's idea of what is an acceptable weight changes as a result of being in the company of obese people. If all those around you are obese, then you start to believe - perhaps sub-consciously - that it's okay to be like them.
For the first time obesity has been put into a social context. If everybody is carrying too much weight then it's easy to see why people are not concerned by their body weight. In fact many probably take comfort from the fact that they are no different to anybody else. If not in a ‘club', they are certainly not made to feel that they need to make change - probably completely the opposite.
Interestingly, the obesity link between friends was very strong, and in several cases distance didn't appear to be a barrier to contagion. Friends could live far apart and there could still be an impact. Researchers felt that this helped to show that the links could not be solely put down to lifestyle and environment.
What is alarming about this study is that it shows how social factors have amplified the current obesity crisis. Social acceptance of obesity may be the main cause of the dramatic increases that have been seen in the last few years.
If we take this situation to its logical conclusion, obesity will soon be the norm. Society will accept that excessive weight is not something to worry about. . . or will it?
The consequences of an overweight population is already a cause for concern for many developed countries around the world. Health care costs are going to increase dramatically and many people will face a very miserable old age unless something changes - soon.
It's not all gloom and doom though. If obesity is contagious, there is no reason why being slim can't be contagious too! A ‘slimness’ epidemic is perfectly possible, but would it be difficult to sell? If feeling a million dollars, being physically able to do whatever you want to do, being happy, being on top of your job and in good health is hard to sell we should all pack our bags now! It's time to get the slim habit!
A Well known speaker, writer and commentator on diet, health problems and behavior change, Henry John has a particular interest in changing behavior through learning new habits Learn more about how to lose weight permanently by learning new habits.