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Research Suggests Obesity is 'Contagious'

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Do the people around you influence your weight? Researchers believe they may. A recent study in JAMA Pediatrics found that a greater risk of obesity may be bred in communities with high overall rates of the issue.

According to the study, this could be the result of a social contagion, or the spread of ideas or behavior patterns in a group though conformity and imitation. In this case, a person’s exposure to communities with higher rates of obesity is linked to an increased risk of becoming overweight.


To conduct the study, researchers examined the body mass index (BMI) of members of 1,519 families—including 1,314 adults and 1,111 children—of various ethnicities from 38 military installments across the United States. Participants self-reported their BMI and obesity data. Additionally, researchers took anthropometric measurements on 458 children to assess body size and shape.

Researchers used the following benchmarks for overweight and obese participants: Parents with a BMI ≥ 25 or a BMI ≥ 30 were classified as overweight or obese, respectively, and children whose BMI percentile for their ages and sexes fell ≥ 85 and ≥ 95 were classified as overweight and obese, respectively.

In total, researchers found that a 1% higher county obesity rate was associated with a higher BMI and greater odds of obesity. These links were stronger among families.

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