Obesity ‘spreads like a contagious disease’, experts warn

Rob Waugh
Contributor
Obesity Can Spread Like Flu Between Friends and Neighbors

Just being around obese people is enough to put people at risk of developing a higher BMI, say, researchers from the University of Southern California.

It’s not a case of being influenced by friends, either.

The researchers analysed families who live in an artificial environment, removed from their wider friendship groups – U.S. military bases.

Ashlesha Datar of University of Southern California and colleagues analysed data from 1,111 adolescents and 1,300 parents who were assigned to military bases in the U.S.

‘Social contagion in obesity means that if more people around you are obese, then that may increase your own chances of becoming obese,’ said Datar.

‘In other words, living in a community where obesity is more common can make sedentary lifestyles, unhealthy eating and overweight or obesity more socially acceptable.’

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The researchers adjusted the data for age, income and rank – but still found that people on bases in states with higher obesity levels were likely to have higher BMI.

In Britain, around two thirds of the adult population (65%) were overweight or obese in 2016, up from just over half (52%) in 1995.

The researchers say, ‘While this study cannot definitively rule out the role of shared environments with the available measures, these findings suggest that other mechanisms may be at work.’