July 26, 2007

Social Ties and Obesity

The Pew Internet Project has chronicled how the internet helps maintain people’s social networks and helps them connect to friends, relatives, workmates and neighbors in times of need. A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine this week asks another question: How do social networks affect someone’s weight? A 32-year study finds that “network phenomena appear to be relevant to the biologic and behavioral trait of obesity, and obesity appears to spread through social ties.” Loved ones not only influence your choice of school, car, or housing — they might influence your choices about smoking, exercise, and food, even if they live hundreds of miles away. The headlines boil it down to “your best friend can make you fat” and “don’t hang around fat people”, but obesity researchers say that people shouldn’t shun their obese friends and look to their immediate environment instead.