Environment may promote this condition
Obese people can now blame their friends or family for their extra pounds: a new study carried out in the United States concluded that obesity is a socially contagious phenomenon. According to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine( NEJM), the chances of gaining weight increase up to 57% if there's a close friend or family member who's obese.
To reach this conclusion, James Fowler from the University of Harvard and Nicholas Christakis from the University of California in San Diego studied medical data from 12,067 people who participated in the Framingham Heart Study between 1971 and 2003. Under this study, the weight of residents from the same suburbs of Boston was monitored for 32 years.
This is how they discovered that when one individual gains weight, it influences the weight gaining of other people nearby. The researchers, whose work was funded by federal funds, considered "plausible" the idea that there exist "parts of the brain that correspond to the action of eating and they are stimulated when this action is observed in others." If one sibling becomes obese, then the risk of the other siblings becoming obese increases by 40%. In this case, as in that of two friends, the chances of "being contagious" increases if people are of the same sex. With couples when one becomes obese, the other has a 37% increased risk of gaining weight. The researchers stressed that with homosexuals the risk is even higher.
On average, scientists calculated that when a person gained, for example 17 pounds, five of those pounds "would spread" to the belly of a close friend due to this "contagious" effect.
The study does not go into detail about the phenomenon among children, who have high percentages of being overweight or obese, but it does emphasize that the context also holds for child weight gain.
Researchers also relay some good news: the same "contagious" effect that makes people gain weight can also push people to eat healthier and work out. This is "because people's perception of their own risk for diseases depends largely on the people they surround themselves with," indicates the report.
Oddly enough some time ago when speaking of obesity, the word epidemic was used. In public health, epidemic refers to those diseases that can be transmitted from one person to another, in other words, that are contagious or infectious. This study scientifically proves that the word was being used correctly.
The NEJMwarns that in the United States one third of the population is overweight and 60 million adults are obese as proven in various studies.
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