So this study of obesity and social networks is pretty darn intriguing. Cranky Fitness will no doubt be among many other blogs writing about it today--but if Crabby can't the be first, at least she can be the silliest! Anyway, here's the bottom line: if your friends are starting to pack on the pounds, watch out--you may catch "obesity" from them.
Seems unlikely, doesn't it? But the effects of social networks, especially same-sex friendships, were extremely powerful when it came to subsequent weight gain (or, more optimistically, weight loss).
The actual journal article cited above is somewhat impenetrable, though it is has really cool charts, and diagrams of social networks that make them look like creepy organisms that could infect and kill you. So go there for hard core analysis.
Crabby is no scientist, but it looked like these guys thought things through pretty well, and controlled for factors like people's possible tendency to choose friends of their own size, or quit smoking at the same time.
However, for the less hard core, there's a watered down USA Today version that's much easier to follow.
Anyway, the clever researchers, James Fowler from UCSD (go Tritons!) and Nicholas Christakis from some medical school or other in Boston, took a fresh look at the Framington Heart Study data. Framington is that ginormous study that's been going on forever (well, 32 years). From that they could look at both social networks and weight gain (or loss), and here are some of their findings:
A person's chances of becoming obese increased by 37% if a spouse became obese.
The chances of becoming obese increased by 40% if a sibling became obese.
They increased by 57% a friend became obese. And the mutuality of the friendship made a difference: between mutual friends, one friend's obesity increased the other's risk by a whopping 171%.
No effects were seen between neighbors.
And those of the same sex had a greater influence on each other.
Christakis explained that "at the heart of the matter is the sharing of acceptable norms for weight, not just sharing the same eating-and-exercise habits... If someone you care about gains weight, your notion of an acceptable body size may change. You may decide it's OK to go up a couple of sizes."
But here's the icky part of this whole thing--the conclusions some people are drawing. According to the USA Today article, an obesity researcher at Baylor advises: "if you are trying to lose or control your weight, pick your friends carefully. You may not want to be around people who are gaining weight or who are too heavy."
Now that's just not nice.
Crabby suggests that instead of being a total jerk and cutting your overweight friends loose, that you simply use your brain. Make an effort to realize the impact their weight may be having on you, and don't use their larger size as an excuse for an extra slice of pizza or a "Baconator" with a large order of fries.
And you could also perhaps realize that your own efforts to eat healthy foods in reasonable portions, as well as your commitment to exercise, might be helping your less health-minded friends! Crabby prefers this approach to fleeing in terror from your friends lest they infect you with Contagious Obesity.
So what do you all think? Are your fat friends making you fatter? Are your skinny friends making you skinnier? Or are you impervious to the effects of your social network?