Thinking of obesity as a contagious disease may sound crazy, but it is plausible. A study that researched the spread of obesity in social networks over 32 years has revealed interesting insights from their latest results. The results have shown obesity may spread in social networks pending on the nature of your social ties and suggest that your friends can influence each other’s health.
You are probably thinking that environmental or even genetic factors that friends and relatives share must be responsible for ‘simultaneous’ weight gain, but surprisingly that doesn’t seem to be the cause. It seems that the social and personal influence of close friends or family can lead people to put on weight. It’s suggested that being close to an obese person might change a person’s perception of what being overweight is and influence their behaviour, such as food consumption. Being surrounded by obese people could change your self- image and broaden your limits of what can be acceptable and what isn’t.
Who has the strongest influence on weight gain then? Believe it or not friends and siblings of the same sex! The opposite sex seems to have such a big impact because we’re far more influenced by those we resemble our own traits than by those who don’t. Unexpectedly, spouses – who usually share the same environment, meals and habits- don’t affect each other’s weight as we would think. In numbers this means that a person’s chances of becoming obese increases by 57% if he or she had a friend who became obese within a certain period of time. In the case of adult siblings, the chance of becoming obese reaches up to 40%.
So what’s the big deal? In my opinion, recognizing the power of social networks first is an important way to combat this epidemic. If social networks play a role in the growing and worldwide laid out obesity epidemic, it could potentially help to slow it down as well. The very same phenomena could be used to spread positive health behaviours such as healthy eating and regular exercising. Healthy folks could be a great influence and inspiration for those needing to drop some kilos and catch good habits. Why not start with a health epidemic then? Have you ever inspired someone to be healthier or have been influenced by anyone to pick up a good health routine?
“The Spread of Obesity in a Large Social Network over 32 Years” N. Christakis and J. Fowler.