Contagious Weight Gain

Heather Reese Health Guide
  • New scientific studies are released daily, often reporting a grim prognosis for our future health. It's enough to make you feel hopeless about your own health as well as the health of everyone around you. There is no denying that obesity is a growing problem in the United States and around the world. The vast body of research on this topic allows us to make informed decisions and lifestyle changes; however, it is important to know that all research has limitations and the results are simply a best guess.


    A recent study that found people who have overweight friends are more likely to become overweight has been widely covered in the press. This particular study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, found that if someone became obese their friends were 57 percent more likely to become obese, that's more than twice as likely.

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    When not carefully considered, these findings can be quite disheartening. The very people you consider to be your support system - to have your best interest at heart - may actually be detrimental to you health! Certainly people tend to be drawn towards those with similar lifestyles, which can include unhealthy eating habits. Being aware of these study results enables you to take a step back and examine your health habits when in the company of your friends. I think we have all ordered dessert at the encouragement of our friends; this study can serve as a call to action to be the positive influence in your social circle.


    Before you start phasing out friends and acquaintances whose belly falls a bit over their belt - remember that numerous other studies have found that the buddy system is an effective tool for improving health practices like self-breast examination.


    Weight loss programs that utilize the buddy system such as Weight Watchers, which has weekly group meetings, as well as television shows like The Biggest Loser where teammates encourage one another's success have demonstrated that friends can help friends lose weight. In fact, a study conducted by Rena Wing, PhD at Brown University in 2005 and published in the Journal of Consulting Psychology found that people who had a weight loss buddy lost twice as much weight as those who dieted on their own.


    Research clearly demonstrates that our behavior is influenced by our friends and social circles. These two studies show us that both obesity and weight loss can be contagious among friends. It's ultimately your decision ... which will you catch?

Published On: July 30, 2007