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Speak Up: Viral Obesity

A recent study concluded that obesity is "contagious" and that it can spread like a "virus" from one person to another. While the headlines all read as if obesity is a physical contagion, the Framingham Heart Study involved a detailed analysis of a large social network of 12,067 people. The participants and their relationships were closely followed for 32 years, from 1971 until 2003.

The study concluded that people were most likely to become obese when a friend became obese. Having an obese friend upped a person's chance of becoming obese by 57 percent. Physical proximity was less important than emotional ties and friends had more influence on weight than neighbors or family members. The same effect seemed to occur for weight loss, the investigators say, but most participants were gaining rather than losing weight.

While I find the study interesting, the terms contagious and viral really irritate me. I am fascinated by social influence and weight gain and think more research should be done in this sphere.

To read more on this topic, check out the New York Times article on the subject.

What do you think? In your experience, is this true. Speak up and tell me in the comments section below.


Join The Conversation
SaraNoH SaraNoH 6 years
wow. Come on people. They use the word "virus" and "catch" as a METEPHOR. That's the beauty of language: you can trade words in and out to give a piece of writing personality and life. They say you tend to be most like your 5 closest friends (when you really look at this it's true) so obviously this article and study is going into the SOCIAL area of becoming obese, not saying it's strictly physical of "catching" it. It's saying be AWARE that we are humans and are therefore influenced by our peers, to some degreee at least. Anyone who's unhappy with the fact that this study is only focusing on our friends as being a potential source for weight gain, how else would you like them to do it? They can't look at every possible factor and have the study be extremely thorough. Why not focus on one factor, get it done right, then move on to the next? some people are just too damn sensitive.
Pink_Lipstick Pink_Lipstick 10 years
I think this is ridculous. Are they saying to shun all the fat people? Everyone is responsible for their own bodies. This is like an excuse to say, "I'm overweight because all my friends are". Just be your own person!
Chickonspeed Chickonspeed 10 years
the only viral thing I see is brainwashing.
erlking erlking 10 years
It is very easy to loosen up on your discipline when you are hanging out with someone who has little.
atoxicsparkle atoxicsparkle 10 years
I think it depends on the person and their will power, but not just with larger friends but with skinny friends who can eat whatever they want. I know it's hard to resist that triple banana fudge sundae when a smaller friend is getting one because you think "Hey, if they can eat it and look like that, why can't I." I hope that made sense :? I guess I'm saying I can see where this study is going, but there are so so so many factors that influence weight gain that this really doesn't ring right with me.
sarahrah sarahrah 10 years
I found the media representation of this report so offensive. As someone who is obese and has been on the track to becoming more healthy, my personal experiences indicate that it's harder to stay on line with a diet when among my thin friends, who can eat anything without it showing. The implication that all obese people binge eat their way through every meal really frustrates me.
KrisSugar KrisSugar 10 years
i think that both the virus and social virus ideas could be true for some, but not all the way across the board. I am the biggest girl in all my group of friends, and I am only a 12. i'm just taller than all of them, but sometimes i do feel unattractive compared to them. They are all so tiny in general. But none of them have gotten fat because of me. i think all of us have become more fit because of one or two girls who always suggest we do something physical. I suppose in our group the "social virus" is healthy activity. Running is a very prevalent pasttime among us, for instance.
LaLaLaurie06 LaLaLaurie06 10 years
I don't think this is that true. I have friends of all shapes and sizes but hanging out with the larger friends has not made me gain weight. I've actually lost weight because I take it upon myself to monitor what I eat and exercise when I can.
tralalala tralalala 10 years
I'm conflicted... I've always been the fat friend haha, I honestly don't think that I have a single good friend over a size 10. None of them have gained weight because of my influence, but I definitly have lost weight because of theirs. So I guess if a lot of your friends were fat that could be an issue, but I think a single fat friend isn't that bad haha
intensebandgeek intensebandgeek 10 years
I believe this.
ThePerfectScore ThePerfectScore 10 years
social virus....
facin8me facin8me 10 years
cravin, though this may offer you little solace in the face of the horrible way that this was reported in the news today, the actual article was nothing like the media coverage of it. the article is mostly statistics and such, but it never lays blame with the overweight people (the "alters") and instead talks about the changes in perceptions and habits of the people who ended up gaining weight. unlike most scientific articles, this one is free.
cravinsugar cravinsugar 10 years
fit, i am glad you were angered by the words used like "viral" and contagious. I know i tend to :rant: on about how the media makes obesity sound, and i am going to try and not get so emotional. to be quite honest, i am coming off of a binge, a big binge, and all the hard work i put into my health i feel i have reversed. i have gained weight back, etc etc. it is my own fault, and i know that, but seeing this news report was so...hurtful. I know i am oversensitive, but now it is like, you know, there will always be a few kooks out there who react to this by thinking, and acting "i don't want to be fat, so i cannot be near fat people". i am beginning to wonder if the media thinks fat people don't have feelings. like maybe we are immune to the word since we are obviously okay with the way we are. How much do you want to bet that in a few months there will be an anti-obesity vaccine? and people will flock to the doctors, paying whatever the cost, to be vaccinating form catching this horrible disease? I admit, i have not read or heard the whole story...I heard the news talking about it breifly this morning before i left, but, i went to work and tried to forget. i actually checked back a few times to see if it had been psoted on fitsugar yet, as i knew it would be, and am glad it was tonight so i could leave a comment that wasn't dripping with anger or misplaced animosity. anyways. there is my opinion. i am sure bad eating habits rub off, but why blame the obese friend when it was the person who gained weight's fault for not having will power, and not ocntinuing their healthy lifestyle? I mean, can't anyone take responsibility for their own actions? I take responsibility for my bad eating habits, why can't they?
justanotherjane justanotherjane 10 years
another interesting finding of the report was that the correlation only existed if the smaller person said the overweight person was their friend. Then over time, the smaller person would gain weight. But it didn't work the opposite way. If only the overweight person agreed they were friends with the smaller person, there was no correlation with weight gain for the smaller person.
facin8me facin8me 10 years
Oh, and ash_marisa! I heard on NPR this morning that the study found what you said too- that having friends/family who are fit or who are changing their lifestyle to something more healthy also could influence a person positively. (of course, that's nowhere near as sensational as 'fat friends make you fat..")
facin8me facin8me 10 years
The headlines reporting this study really p*ss me off too. had a headline earlier today that said something like "overweight? blame your fat friends!" I couldn't believe the way the different headlines were reporting this. The actual study showed that having overweight friends or family members was correlated with weight gain, not because you can "catch" it, but because it changed a person's judgment about body size and diet. Of course, you'd never get that from the headline.
ash_marisa ash_marisa 10 years
I would like to think the opposite is more true, that the more fit your friends are, the more fit you will (want to) be. I don't know if it works the other way they are stating it.
mwmsjuly19 mwmsjuly19 10 years
I can see how this can be true for some people. But I thank the Lord and my own willpower and desire to be fit had protected me from some of my friends' bad habits.
DesignRchic DesignRchic 10 years
To some degree I beleive that your friends can influence your eating, but it's still needs to be a personal responsibility and accountability. Most of my friends are overweight, and it hardly influences me because I know I go home, and have to deal with myself, and the choices I've made.
bbites11 bbites11 10 years
from my experience a few years ago a friend lost weight and before i even realized it...i lost just about as much as her. just goes to prove your surroundings make such an impact.
NdHebert NdHebert 10 years
I believe it. Its very easy to eat bad when someone you are with is eating horribly also.
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