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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Obesity is Contagious

posted by on July 25 at 20:25 PM

So say those biased, fatphobic scientists.

If your friends and family get fat, chances are you will too, researchers report in a startling new study that suggests obesity is “socially contagious” and can spread easily from person to person.

The large, federally funded study found that to be true even if your loved ones lived far away. Social ties seemed to play a surprisingly strong role, even more than genes are known to do.

“We were stunned to find that friends who are hundreds of miles away have just as much impact on a person’s weight status as friends who are right next door,” said co-author James Fowler of the University of California, San Diego.

The study found a person’s chances of becoming obese went up 57 percent if a friend did, 40 percent if a sibling did and 37 percent if a spouse did. In the closest friendships, the risk almost tripled.

Researchers think it’s more than just people with similar eating and exercise habits hanging out together. Instead, it may be that having relatives and friends who become obese changes one’s idea of what is an acceptable weight.

Despite their findings, the researchers said people should not sever their relationships.

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I wonder if the same thing can be said of any other trait - is open-mindedness catching? Can you catch liberalism? Religion? Foot fetishes? Oh no!</sarcasm>

I despair for any rational, sane, respectful problem-solving in this area. Am I unreasonably pessimistic? Let's just watch the rest of the comments and see.

Posted by ap | July 25, 2007 8:40 PM

<sarcasm>Awesome. I was just waiting for the link on this. Now you have another excuse not to get to know fat people or heaven forbid actually have any as friends! Definitely not treat fat strangers as human!

I wonder if the same thing can be said of any other trait - is open-mindedness catching? Can you catch liberalism? Religion? Foot fetishes? Oh no!</sarcasm>

I despair for any rational, sane, respectful problem-solving in this area. Am I unreasonably pessimistic? Let's just watch the rest of the comments and see.

Posted by ap | July 25, 2007 8:41 PM

Anything else I could say about this is said so much better here.

Posted by ap | July 25, 2007 8:59 PM

I've spent about a zillion hours at the gym over the years, and it's only reinforced my view that regardless of size, beauty comes from the inside.

Posted by Original Andrew | July 25, 2007 9:10 PM

I love the bit about severing relationships. You can almost see the reporter going 'on your head be it'.

And 'scientists' say no such thing. The article says it, and science reporters are a ridiculously ignorant lot. God only knows what the study actually shows- it's newspaper blurbs like these that lead to people ignoring scientific studies altogether, since the reporter simply plays up whatever angle they feel like, using corelation and causation interchangeably.

Posted by Kerlyssa | July 25, 2007 10:15 PM

Dear Dan,
Thank you for this post- this truly is a revelation!

I'm SO GLAD we have people like you- people who don't buy into the shallow, weak minded group-think brought on by popular culture... I mean, just look at all the sexually tinged Stranger covers that feature people who aren't freakish twinks!

Oh wait, I forgot... THERE ARE NONE.

Well, at least you dedicated a portion to the recent gay issue towards thoughtful exposes on Bears and empowered Dykes, two alternates to popular beauty standards you normally wouldn't touch with a ten foot pole

Oh wait, never mind... the only reason either got mentioned is because you couldn't write about Sanjaya.

Face it Dan- you wish you were an alternative to the mainstream, but when it comes to beauty, you bought the bullshit, hook, line, and sinker. I guess that's why you didn't bother to comment on the article you ripped off the internet... didn't like how ugly your comments make you on the inside.

Posted by UNPAID BLOGGER | July 25, 2007 11:16 PM

Dear Everyone Else,
I'm sorry you had to get mixed up in that.

Truth be told, I've been pissed about this for sometime, and only now had the avenue with which to vent it. I still love you and The Stranger, and nothing will ever change that. I would never leave him for the Weekly.

Posted by UNPAID BLOGGER | July 25, 2007 11:20 PM

Gee, thank skinny guy who has never had a problem with weight for reminding me that my weight is not only bad but contagious. You have really helped me see the light. Jesus christ, you couldn't have just left this topic alone?!

I don't need you to remind me of my problems and heap on an extra helping of condemnation, I get enough of that from myself and my mother.

The scientists are not fat-phobic or biased, but your posting of this article with that little bit of sarcasm shows that while you may not technically be fat-phobic, you can be a total douche.

Posted by Brandon | July 25, 2007 11:30 PM

Christ man don't you listen to the podcast? Of course hes a douche. And awesome. Totally totally awesome.

Posted by karst | July 25, 2007 11:37 PM

Dear Unpaid Blogger @6+7: thank you so much for speaking up. Just... thank you.

Posted by Katelyn | July 25, 2007 11:44 PM

HAHAHAHAHA this 'finding' is so laughably clueless I don't even know where to begin.

As for Unpaid Blogger's take... no comment. No, really.

Posted by Gomez | July 25, 2007 11:51 PM

He's usually only douche-ey to people who have asked for it by writing letters or calling in. I don't remember fat people ever saying "Hey dan, remind us of everything that is wrong with fat people while at the same time supporting your own sense of self-importance." That's all that reposting this article did.

I'm a little irritated and I hope he doesn't post this shit anymore even though he probably will based on some sense that he needs to "educate" the fat slobs out there or that he is "just telling it like it is".

Posted by brandon | July 26, 2007 2:32 AM

P.S I'll shut up now, I promise.

Posted by brandon | July 26, 2007 2:33 AM

Fat is as fat does. I am not exactly bony.

Posted by nameless and clueless | July 26, 2007 2:36 AM

Hah! If this is true, Dan, be afraid, be very afraid. We're spreading like kudzu, and soon, you'll be one of us!

Posted by Tululi | July 26, 2007 3:36 AM

@15: You forgot:

One of us! One of us! One of us!

Posted by Gloria | July 26, 2007 3:46 AM

I'm hoping it works the other way around. If my best friend, who lives 6,000 miles away, goes to the gym, will I get skinnier?

Posted by Kagey | July 26, 2007 3:48 AM

I was fat once.

That is all.

Posted by Dan Savage | July 26, 2007 6:35 AM

I used to be fat, too. That's why I found this article so interesting.

Posted by Michigan Matt | July 26, 2007 6:48 AM

Man, Dan. What an asshole he is. If only he had not linked to this story then there is no way it would have wound up on the cover of the Seattle PI, Seattle Times, and New York Times this morning. Once the editors of those papers saw this up on Slog, they ran with the story. Man. Dan. What an asshole.

Posted by Some of My Best Friends are Fat | July 26, 2007 6:55 AM

I used to be nearly 200 pounds and now am at 165 pounds. How you ask? Not by severing relationships with my chunky friends but by establishing better eating/activity habits and making relationships with people who are active. But then again I got bitched out about agreeing with "science" that says that Americans are putting on the pounds by saying that us gay boys have put on pounds too in the past decade.

Me being a CRAZY liberal agreeing with that CRAZY scientific research!

Posted by Cato the Younger Younger | July 26, 2007 7:21 AM

dan - i saw you at the gym are still pretty fleshy/mushy. i'm not surprised to hear you used to be fat. a lot of ex-fat folks have that thick fleshy look.

Posted by epicenter | July 26, 2007 7:38 AM

I don't think the study is way off-based. I think fat people like hanging around other fat people. I knew a group of morbidly obese pagans who loved watching the "Food Network", cooking and screwing eachother. They were inseperable. I think if any of them wanted to go on a diet, it would have meant leaving.

Posted by boringgirl | July 26, 2007 7:43 AM

I thought the science of the study itself was really interesting (how it was actually done), but, I am not fat and defensive.

If Dan is an asshole for posting this, then so is probably every major media outlet in the US, since I saw it covered on several TV morning shows and newspapers today.

Posted by Julie | July 26, 2007 8:07 AM

I want everyone to relax for a moment and remember the most important factor of this study:
people are getting paid for this sort of thing.

Odds are, they're getting paid from federal money. Which is to say, your tax dollars. You know, the taxes you pay on your property or the sales tax or the income tax or that part of your paycheck that you don't actually get?

So every person who gets into bashing other people needs to remember that they paid for this momentary privilege.

For the rest of us, we can just slip quietly into the silent pools of despair as we see why our taxes are mandatory.
It's to pay for these studies that remind us to hate each other, instead of those who take our money.

Posted by Kaltros | July 26, 2007 9:36 AM

Wait, mean, if I hang around people who eat a lot, I might eat a lot too? Amazing! Who knew that you could actually develop social norms from your social environment? Groundbreaking stuff!

Posted by Matthew | July 26, 2007 9:37 AM

What Kaltros said. Social science's fradulent usage of federal money is disgusting. Few of these people know what they're doing, and yet they get quoted by the AP.

Posted by Gomez | July 26, 2007 9:48 AM

Hey, who's the douchebag at 12 & 13 who stole my screen name? That is *not* me. When are you guys going to let us reserve our screen names?

Back on topic: this is why I don't have any fat friends.

Posted by brandon | July 26, 2007 10:00 AM

I think Dan posted this because it's just interesting, not as a commentary about any sort of disgust about obese people.

What I find interesting about it is that it just highlights that obesity in America is more socially related than genetically related. I've always been skinny and I'm not denying there is an element of genetics/metabolism, but the bottom line is that overall we have an identical genetic profile as we did a hundred years ago (just a few generations back).

We live in an excessive society where happiness is interpreted as having what makes you happy and having A LOT of it. Instead of using people who eat to find solace, I'll use smokers as an example. This is changing a bit with young people but when people smoke they smoke a pack a day. Just excessive. Same thing with eating, sex, shopping, etc.

And you know who started all this? The baby boomers. And they passed it on to us...

Posted by jhell | July 26, 2007 10:03 AM

YES, thank you, #24, if any of these people looked at anything other than the Slog they would see that this study is all over the news, and perhaps be rational enough to stop bashing Dan for sharing it.

A study investigating social networks and obesity seems like a fairly valid pursuit to me. Sorry if some of you don't like the results. The study certainly did not instruct people to hate overweight people- and- this is going to sound corny as hell, but here goes: I sense a lot of fear from overweight people that this study will hurt their social lives. Well, unless your friends are total fatuous jackasses, that will not be the case, so relax.

Posted by jenn | July 26, 2007 10:25 AM

I think Dan posted this because all the news sources are talking about it, and he wanted to give people here a chance to discuss it, or bitch at him, I guess. The point of the study (which most people on here probably didn't actually read) is that weight has a social connection beyond "My friend and I both went out to McDonalds for lunch together every day this week." That's why it finds that there's no distance correlation involved. They think that we just tend to accept our friends, and tend to think what they do is ok, changing our world view. I imagine it's the same thing as having a gay friend; you find anything more socially acceptable when it hits that close to home. They also say that the same thing happens with stopping smoking and losing weight, which means this type of thing can be used for spreading good health policies.

Also, it's gaining weight that's a problem, not just being fat. You can all feel free to stay obese; just don't pack on any more pounds.

Also, @ 25, and you just saying we should just stop funding science studies? You're right! How very republican of you...

Posted by Joe | July 26, 2007 10:26 AM

To Joe/31,

I never said any such thing. My intention was that the studies funded by our money should be about improving life and less about persecuting people, and that the money controlled by the government is not regularly utilized to our advantage.
What's the benefit to this study? How does this further the scientific understanding of obesity and its causes? Does it break new ground or is it simply a causality/correlation assumption? I'll suggest that a study on how people lost weight might be more helpful.

But if you would prefer to assign a motivation to my statement and then react based upon that assumption, do feel free to indulge.

Posted by Kaltros | July 26, 2007 10:38 AM

@32 I was joking about the republican thing. It just pisses me off when people are against funding for science because it doesn't show what they want it to show, or study what they want to study. If science had to make everyone happy, we would never study anything.

From the actual NEJM article: "The observation that people are embedded in social networks suggests that both bad and good behaviors might spread over a range of social ties. This highlights the necessity of approaching obesity not only as a clinical problem but also as a public health problem." The study states the obesity needs to be treated as a social disease, so saying to a person "You're fat; loose weight." isn't effective. (furthering understanding of obesity) It also states (as I said before) that positive health benefits can be spread through social networks this way as well; this means that public health interventions are more cost effective than they seem on paper.

There are already a million studies out there on how to lose weight. They all lead to the same thing: eat less calories than you burn. Crash diets don't work because people don't stick to them or don't understand them. (No good diet is going to tell you to cut out fruit, but eating a pound of bacon every day is good for you.) The reason that these aren't talked about anymore is a) they've been said before, and b) people don't like to hear that. This has the benefit of being spun as "It's not your fault that you're overweight! Blame your friends!" (That's not me; that was from some news site.) People don't like to be told how to fix these things, they like their behaviors to be excused.

Posted by Joe | July 26, 2007 11:22 AM

All these freaking fat people just enable each other. That's the problem.

Posted by Catman | July 26, 2007 11:28 AM
Researchers think itís more than just people with similar eating and exercise habits hanging out together. Instead, it may be that having relatives and friends who become obese changes oneís idea of what is an acceptable weight.

What a ludricous conclusion. Of course, it's not going to change a person's conception of acceptable weight -- not when Madison Ave and Hollywood are pushing an evermore skeletal physique as the ideal.

What's far more likely is that having friends and relatives who are overweight changes your idea of what is acceptable eating. You're also more likely to join them in overeating when going to restaurants, parties, etc. You know, kind of like how nonsmokers sometimes start smoking when they hang out with smokers too much.

Posted by keshmeshi | July 26, 2007 11:30 AM

If we're quoting, NEJM says "Our findings that the weight gain of immediate neighbors did not affect the chance of weight gain in egos and that geographic distance did not modify the effect for other types of alters (e.g., friends or siblings) helps rule out common exposure to local environmental factors as an explanation for our observations." Whether your friend lives next door or across the country doesn't matter. I feel most people find what their friends do to be more acceptable than what Hollywood tells them. If we just listened to that glowing box, we'd all be living in lofts in New York.

Posted by Joe | July 26, 2007 11:37 AM

I wish Dan would avoid this subject altogether, because every time he opens his mouth on it he sounds like a total ass. I guess that's why he didn't post any commentary on this bullshit article.

I'm totally not surprised if he used to be fat. Self-hating, anybody?

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