Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Stupid Obesity - Socially Contagious?

This is a few days old but I still wanted to comment. In case you missed it, a study released last week indicated obesity was socially contagious. Authors of the study concluded that if you lived, worked or were friends with an obese person, you were more likely to be obese. Conversely, if you were height and weight proportionate, your friends and family were likely to be the same. Hence the socially contagious theme behind the research.

You remember the old saying..."Birds of a feather..."

In some respects the adage is true. You're not going to find the best lawyers or financial firms on the low-rent side of town, are you? Of course not, they're likely to be right next door to each other or in the next building - downtown or in the financial district.

But when it comes to this socially contagious idea, I completely disagree with the theory.

Here's why.

For the last several years we've been bombarded with news of the obesity epidemic.

And you've seen the headlines many times...

  • "Obesity rates are rising?"
  • "Obesity is an epidemic!"
  • "Our kids are becoming obese at the fastest rate in US history!"

So if obesity is rising at epidemic proportions, how does the Socially Contagious idea fit?

It doesn't.

It doesn't fit because if everyone is becoming obese, does it really matter who your friends are? Does it really matter who your family members are? Does it really matter who you work with?

The short answer is no. While there certainly is some relationship, there's simply too little separation of the data to justify a Socially Contagious theory. By that I mean there are too many related items over-lapping each other that are better predictors of obesity than simply the circle of people you see on a regular basis.

Like a bad diet and too little exercise. At the same time we're bombarded by the obesity statistics, we're bombarded by information that our diets are terrible and we can't get off the couch for 30 minutes of exercise. These are more important than the Socially Contagious idea.

But back to the question...

Does is really matter who your friends are?

If more than 60% of the population is overweight or obese, simply by chance your going to be living, working or socializing with someone that was overweight or obese. So no, it doesn't.

Calling obesity socially contagious is analogous to saying that humans having two legs is socially contagious. We're all humans, we all have two legs. And just by chance you're going to know somone, live with someone or work with someone that is overweight or obese.

So does it make sense to say it's socially contagious?

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