Study Finds Obesity May Be Contagious

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Are your friends or neighbors obese? If so, there’s a good chance that you’ll become plus-sized yourself, according to a new study. New research finds that living in communities with higher rates of obesity is associated with an increase in BMI in parents and children. 

Experts compare the effect to that of contagious disease, like the flu, which is spread by close proximity. Previous research found that people were up to 57 percent more likely to become obese if a friend or close family member was obese. The new study, published in JAMA Pediatrics, found that parents and kids who lived in counties with higher obesity rates were more likely to be overweight or obese themselves. The longer families lived in the overweight communities, the more likely they were to gain weight. The theory is that living in a community where obesity is more common can influence what is socially acceptable, in terms of eating and body size. 

To prove the theory, the study focused on families living on military bases because they tend to be close-knit communities in a contained environment. The researchers found that families assigned to bases in communities with higher rates of obesity were more likely to be heavy compared with families sent to bases where obesity was less common. The findings may help explain why high obesity rates in the United States tend to cluster in certain geographic areas.

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