If You’re Overweight It’s Really Not Your Fault

by Henry John

If somebody said to you that obesity was contagious, what would your reaction be? You’d probably be totally incredulous. How on earth can obesity be contagious? Well, a group of researchers at Harvard Medical school have carried out a study which involved 12,000 people and their conclusion is that obesity is contagious. This piece of research has put the cat among the pigeons in a very big way.

The reason obesity’s contagious doesn’t lie in the fact that obese deliberately people find other obese people to hang out with, it’s more because there is a direct causal relationship. In other words, a person’s idea of what is an acceptable weight changes as a result of being in the company of obese people. If all those around you are obese, then you start to believe – perhaps sub-consciously – that it’s okay to be like them.

For the first time obesity has been put into a social context. If everybody is carrying too much weight then it’s easy to see why people are not concerned by their body weight. In fact many probably take comfort from the fact that they are no different to anybody else. If not in a ‘club’, they are certainly not made to feel that they need to make change – probably completely the opposite.

One aspect of the study which attracted some attention was that obesity could still have a contagious effect between friends even although they didn’t come into regular contact. Influence obviously being more important than either the environment or lifestyle.

What is alarming about this study is that it shows how social factors have amplified the current obesity crisis. Social acceptance of obesity may be the main cause of the dramatic increases that have been seen in the last few years.

If it’s okay to be overweight or obese, why change? If there is no social pressure to change, why bother trying to lose weight? If we can exist within our own circle of friends and be happy, what’s wrong with that? You could argue, not a lot, but there are other things to think about – the health consequences of being overweight or obese. This has both a personal and a national dimension.

But here’s another thought – what if being slim became the norm? What if being slim became contagious? If obesity has a social context, so can being slim. There would be no complaints if there was a slimness epidemic. It’s something to think about. It could change the whole attitude of the nation. We’d be happier and healthier – what could be better than that. Time to get into the habit of being slim.

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