Thursday, March 12, 2009

The New England Journal of Medicine, in a study of over 12,0000 people, suggests that obesity may be contagious, like a common cold. Apparently, when a study participant's friend became obese, that participant had a 57 percent greater chance of becoming obese himself. In pairs of close friends, one person becoming obese meant his friend had a 171 percent greater chance of following suit. "You are what you eat isn't the end of the story," summed up study co-author James Fowler. "You are what you and your friends eat."

As a child, if I insisted on going outside without a jacket, my mother warned, “If you get sick, don’t complain to me.” How will this new news play in today’s health-conscious world?

“Mommy, can I play at Scott’s house?”

“Isn’t he the overweight boy down the street?”

“Yes, he’s very nice. He’s got cool toys.”

“I don’t think I want you to go there sweetie. You might catch a case of chubby.”

“I won’t mommy. Please.”

“If you do, don’t expect me to let out your seams.”

I don’t wish to poke fun, but can one be “infected” with obesity? The research, in my mind, simply points out the old adage, “Birds of a feather flock together.”

As illustration, someone who enjoys triathlon training and a buddy who is an avid video game enthusiast might enjoy each other’s personalities, and share similar views on politics and morality. Yet, would they hook up?

“Hey, Chris. Want to get together this weekend?”

“Sounds great. What shall we do?”

“We could grab something to eat, go to the mall. What do you think?”

“Sounds fun, but I’ve got my exercise regimen. How about we go to the pool first?”

“I can’t swim.”

“What about cycling?”

“Don’t have a bike.”

“We could go for a run.”

“I’ll just meet you there.”

As Tevye said in Fiddler on the Roof, “A fish may love a bird. But where would they build a house?”

It is a function of human nature to feel best with people who are most like us and do as we do.

When I say, “you know?” I’m reassured when my friend says, ‘Yeah, I do.” That’s why we’re buds. If one enjoys sedentary, high-caloric activities, it stands to reason that so too will those around her. If she begins jogging, she didn’t catch a dose of “fitness;” she changed a routine. Desiring to share that newfound interest, she will seek out others of similar mentality.

The biggest surprise to me was that this surprised them. Most people recognize that smoking and drinking are influenced by group standards, but apparently that realization is relatively new for obesity where so many still consider it a moral failing or merely a clinical condition. Obesity, like so much of life, is largely a function of behavior patterns. To change it, we must change what we do, not necessarily with whom we do it.

So — what the heck — try taking a walk with a friend. It couldn’t hurt, and, who knows, you indeed might catch something: a healthy habit.


Lynn said...

I don't know, maybe it is contagious... fitness, I mean.

My husband and I both decided (independently) that we needed to do something about our weight problem. I started thinking about it in July, him in September, and by November we decided to talk to each other about it... (neither of us really wanting to upset the other...)

We joined Weight Watchers in January. In March, one of my friends who'd fallen off the wagon rejoined. In April, another friend signed up. In October, the last of my girlfriends signed up for the program... Together, we've lost about 250 pounds since 2008.

Where we used to talk video games and food, we now talk healthy recipes and fitness programs.

We may have caught fat together, but we're also getting fit together.

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