Obesity is “contagious”

Obesity runs in communities, and moving into a town with high rates of it increases your own risk of becoming overweight.

That’s the conclusion from a study of US military personnel, conducted by the University of Southern California’s Ashlesha Datar and Nancy Nicosia from the Rand Corporation in Massachusetts, published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.

To make their finding, the researchers used information gathered from 1159 members of the US military, along with their families. This was then run against data regarding obesity rates in the county in which each family was based.

The study found a clear association between areas where obesity was common and the likelihood that the soldiers and their families would be overweight or obese. Using body mass index (BMI) as their yardstick, Datar and Nicosia found higher mean numbers among study subjects who were based in areas with greater numbers of obese residents.

Further, the longer study subjects stayed in such communities, the higher the chance that they would develop BMIs that placed them in overweight or obese categories.

The phenomenon, the researchers conclude, indicates that obesity may be spread by “social contagion”.

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