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Fat Friends Make Friends Fat!

Posted by Julie M.

New data published in the New England Journal of Medicine finds that obesity is “socially contagious.” According to the research, a person’s chances of becoming obese increase by 67 percent if they have a friend who becomes obese, 40 percent if they have a sibling who becomes obese, and 37 percent if they have a spouse who becomes obese. Mutual friends more than triple the risk to each other, especially same-sex pairs, such as brothers or sisters or friends of the same gender! The study followed 32 years of obesity data on more than 12,000 people. So if you or a buddy starts packing on the pounds, try exercising together or making healthy diet choices as a team. The study also found that when someone lost weight and was no longer obese, their friends and family tended to lose weight, too.
Comments (7)
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i wholeheartedly agree! i have a few friends (who shall remain nameless :) that were a bit out of shape... but as soon as one of them started running regularly, a couple of the other ones started to as well... and pretty soon, we were all going to the gym together (the only downside to this, is that i can't really tell people stories about my chubby friend anymore)
This study is very interesting, but I'm not clear why our friends can make us fat or fit if you look on the bright side. There is some interesting psychology that plays a role in this because if I saw a friend gain weight, I couldn't imagine jumping on the band wagon. It seems it would be the reverse - seeing someone gain weight in front of you is motivation to stay fit/lose weight, isn't it? I can understand spouses gaining and losing weight together because you live together. Does anyone have any ideas to why this is true and what do you think about the study?
The increased risk for obesity is 57% (not 67%) when a friend becomes obese (not when they are already obese). Reference: Christakis NA and Fowler JH, N Eng J Med 357 (2007) 370.
I have to agree that having a friend that eats poorly can always encourage you to pack on the extra pounds. They say that women who suddenly "get boyfriends" end up going out to dinner more, or snuggling in front of the movies... and if your new man is a snacker, that may mean that the woman starts to snack along with him in spite of her good intentions. And sometimes, guys can eat a bit more without gaining the weight that women can (but this holds true for some women, as well so please don't start shouting at me.
Of course your friends have an impact on your health. Think about it. What do you do with your friends? Go to the movies and eat buttered popcorn and Milk Duds or play tennis? Eat at that new Italian place or grill chicken and veggies in the back yard? Treat yourself to a relaxing massage or have an hour long gripe session that makes you unhappy and gives you a headache? How hard is it to order a grilled chicken salad with dressing on the side if your friend just ordered your favorite chili cheese fries for themselves? If your friends have habits that aren'nt healthy, you can encourage them to become healthier. Just know that it may not be easy and watch out for the chili cheese fries.

I don't know if I totally agree with this. I and a friend have been fat for years, and I recently lost 25 lbs., and will continue since I've found the gym and exercise is making me see results and happier. My friend is the total opposite but we always support each other, and never PRESS our own issues onto each other. For instance, she smokes and eats poorly. I do not "hassle" her nor does she to me. Friends over 40 years...and hopefully another 40 more. Although my "gym" friends are a totally different breed!

Enjoyed your article, and understand that "changes" in a relationship need to be dealt with, but don't necessarily mean it's over. We both have many "different" circles of friends, that share our very "different" interests, and it works for us. I wouldn't loose a friend because I got skinny and she's still fat, or because she smokes and I don't, etc. Thanks for letting me voice my opinion. Patti

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