July 25, 2007

Obesity. It's contagious!

Caught from friends.


Gordon Freece said...

Friends? I watched half of one episode once. It was deadly boring, but I didn't gain weight.

Gordon Freece said...

More seriously, there's the correlation/causality thing; the article doesn't mention how (or if) they addressed that.

Is it far-fetched to imagine that people tend to be more likely to forge lifelong friendships with others who share their background and outlook, and would therefore tend to have similar eating habits and exercise habits?

Did they control for the obsesity or whatever of non-friends in these people's environments? I mean, if everybody in Toledo's getting fat, many of their friends are, too.

Do people with no friends tend to be thinner than the rest?

It's a nifty hypothesis and it may be right, but, at least as presented by the NYT, it seems a bit glib.

Roger J. said...

What the guy above me (too long a name) said re causation correlation and does not control for any variables. The study is absolutely without epidemiological merit. Let's apply Ockham's razor: if there has been a general increase in overweight and obesity in the last generation, isn't it most likely that the weight of most of the number in that social circle will increase as well? I think "glib" understates the article.

PeterP said...

They need a control group of 'Billy No Mates'.

blake said...

Did you see the add at the link:

"Smokers, dealers, drinkers and pedophiles are a few of her friends."

Whoa. I realize smoking and drinking are not popular, but do parents really lump them in with pedophilia?

blake said...

Actually, I'll take the opposite tack and do some wild speculation: It may very well be that obesity is contagious.

But what if that's for physiological reasons? Submitted for your approval: Toxoplasma gondii which is currently suspected of changing human behavior.

Indeed, what if much of our apparently non-self-determined behavior is pathological in nature? (I mean physiologically pathological, which I somehow feel shouldn't be necessary to add.)

I know the claim has been made of alcoholism, among other behavioral disorders. Why not obesity?

KCFleming said...

Clearly obesity is an infectious disease.

We must cast out the vermin from out midst before the rest of us catch it. Ostracize them. Do not be their friends; they will only recruit you into their fatness.

We should set aside most of, I don't know, Wyoming (since I don't live there) for a giant (and I mean giant) Fat Relocation village. With showers.

chickelit said...

"Obesity. It's contagious"

So too are health, wealth, and happiness to a certain degree.
What I like about the story is that if you buy the theory, and presuppose the lack of any physical viral agent like Human Obesity Virus(HOB),then maybe we can get back to the role of personal responsibility in this and related matters.

lurker2209 said...

Follow-up study idea. Look at American college students who do study abroad in Europe (where obesity is less of a problem) Presumabley they'd make a bunch of new thinner friends and be less likely to gain weight or more likely to loose it than the control group of students who applied to study abroad and didn't get in. Using these students as a control group could rule out the idea that people who want to go to Europe are more likely to have a healthy lifestyle.

One could also look at European students that come to the states. Presumably they'd make heavier American friends and gain weight.

Maybe the typical study abroad (1 semester, a year max) is too short a period, but I think it might be interesting.

I'm Full of Soup said...

Was there a time when the NYT employed really really smart reporters who were adept at spotting new trends and proving they existed?

Radish said...

Fat people have friends?? People keep telling me fat people are too stupid and slovenly to function in normal society...

Adrian said...

"Was there a time when the NYT employed really really smart reporters who were adept at spotting new trends and proving they existed?"

What, you mean you don't buy it? But the people in this article are *just* like the New Victorians - only with even more dinner parties!

I'm Full of Soup said...

Adrian asked:

"What, you mean you don't buy it?"

Adrian I will start buying the NYT BS after they report that an average family needs to make a minimum of $125K per year in order to squeak by after paying taxes, mortgage, car, insurance, food, clothing, entertainment, non-public school tuition, bare retirement savings and emergencies.

Of after they report how Philly police detectives don't have voicemail or email but the city is giving free Wifi and computers to the poor.

Unfortunately the NYT employs a bunch of brainwashed dopes who will never write these stories.

And screw you hdhouse (pre-emptive strike to your usual inane posts).

David53 said...

We should set aside most of, I don't know, Wyoming (since I don't live there) for a giant (and I mean giant) Fat Relocation village. With showers.

I vote to send all the fatties to South Texas. I mean San Antonio is ranked as one of the "fattest" cities in the US already and we do have the BEST enchiladas ever.

Also that would give Texas an excuse to break into 5 separate states as detailed in the 1845 joint resolution that admitted Texas to the Union. We could have North Texas, East Texas, West Texas, Central Texas, and Fat Texas.

By the way, I'm already fat so I won't have to move. Honey!!!! Bring me another plate of nachos with extra refrieds and bacon on top!

Beth said...


I see your nachos (really, with bacon? that's great!) and raise you one fried oyster poboy, fully dressed with butter, mayonnaise, lettuce, tomato, pickles and hot sauce.

Adrian said...

AJ, I know, I was being facetious, sorry it didn't come across that well!

Anonymous said...

Maybe it's just that fit people don't want to hang around with lard asses.

Okay. Seriously. I know it's wrong to even pretend to be mean about this. But I feel like I can. Fat people are some of my best friends...

Bruce Hayden said...

I doubt that it is really contagious, but there are likely some affects either way.

Let's start with teenaged girls. If they are in a group with very thin girls, they are likely to feel fat and a need to lose weight. But that is likely less pressing if they are outweighed by some of their friends.

Now to adults. I live in one of the thinnest parts of the country here in Colorado. Part of it is that so many spend so much of their time involved in outdoor activities. strenuous ones. Not riding snowmobiles, but more likely back country skiing where you have to earn your turns.

So, those who participate in such tend to flock together because that is so much a part of their lives. And, unfortunately for me, those of us who carry a little extra weight just can't keep up. So, my next brother is the one who is asked to go climbing or biking with our mutual friends, and often not me. Luckily for me, I haven't given up yet, and still try to participate, even if I am a bit slower on the uphill (I can catch many of them on the downhill side in back country skiing).

On the other hand, there are plenty of people, even here, who enjoy more sedentary pursuits. And, yes, they often include eating. Sometimes to excess.

So, I would suggest that a big part of why fat people tend to be with fat people and skinny ones with skinny ones, is that preferred lifestyles bring them together. But there is some synergy involved too, where athletic people cause their less athletic friends to be more so, and sedentary people tend to do similarly with their friends.

blake said...


That's a very logical, reasonable explanation.

My money's still on bloodsucking cat-borne parasites.

I'm Full of Soup said...


No offense taken- I laughed at your sarcasm.

I was really zinging nitwit hdhouse pre-emptively but he has not shown his dumb mug. Maybe my pre-emption worked.

Peter Hoh said...

My friends started getting older, and guess what? I started getting older, too.

Damn. Gotta get me some new friends.

Fred said...

Very interesting read, I have to say over the course of my life this seems to be highly accurate. Sometimes I'm infected by my surroundings and others I am the carrier infecting my surroundings!

Ahh, the fattie virus theory, this explains everything.

Meade said...

I have to concur with Fred on this. And I wish more people would do what I do -- whenever I feel a touch of obesity coming on, I stay home (where I obsessively look up diagnostic stuff on the Big Wide Internet Web) so that I don't go around spreading my norms willy-nilly to hapless innocent skinny people.

And I don't dare go back out until all my symptoms subside. (Or until I run out of ice cream.)

Sure, I know, you're thinking, "But Meade, doesn't that mean that you are denying your many associates the pleasures of your infectious smile?"

Look, there is an EPIDEMIC and it is running amok.
Let's each do our part, shall we?