Are Your Friends Helping to Make You Fat?

by Jo-Ann Heslin, MA, RD, CDN on May 9, 2012 · 24 comments

Have you and your doctor ever seriously discussed your weight? Is your best friend or sister overweight? Were you and your husband overweight when you got married? All of these social ties may be contributing to your weight problem. How you ask? The spread of obesity has as much to do with our social contacts as it does with our genes.

Seventy percent of adults in the US are overweight, and the prevalence of adults who are severely or morbidly obese is the fastest growing group. Yet, only 12% have ever been told by their doctor, nurse, or other health care professional that they have a weight problem that needs attention. Older individuals and men are least likely to be diagnosed as obese.

According to a survey by the National Consumers League (NCL) there is a startling disconnect between the way people perceive their own weight and their actual weight. In the NCL survey over half the respondents still felt that obesity was an unmentionable subject in society and it was caused by a lack of willpower. More than a third surveyed felt overweight people should pay more for health insurance, and over one-quarter felt it was okay to poke fun at someone who weighs too much. If over 70% of Americans are overweight, in many cases these respondents were talking about themselves. Yet, they weren’t aware of that.

Weight is a very personal, complicated issue. Most view obesity as a legitimate medical problem, but few identify themselves as obese because of the social stigma attached to being overweight – 87% believe their body weight is in the socially acceptable range. Carrying extra pounds has become the new social norm.

In a study in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers from Harvard and the University of California looked at the spread of obesity in the U.S. over the last 32 years. What they found was that social ties or your social network can be a major contributing factor. The researchers concluded that when a close friend or relative becomes obese, it changes what we consider normal. You like and respect this person in your social network, so you begin to think bigger is not so bad. As a secondary result, whether it is conscious or unconscious, we look to others for clues on how to eat, how much to exercise, and what is an acceptable weight. If people in your close social network are eating too much, exercising too little, and weigh too much, you are likely to adapt these habits and mimic their behavior. As you get heavier, you pass along these behaviors to others within your social network. Result – obesity spreads as a social epidemic.

If you have a close friend who is obese, your risk for obesity increases by 57%. Among adult siblings, one sibling’s chance of becoming obese increased by an average of 40% if the other sibling became obese. Sisters had a greater effect on other sisters (67%) than brothers (44%). Interestingly, males were more likely to be influenced to gain weight if their other male friends were heavy. In marriage, husbands and wives had an equal influence on the other. If one gained weight there was an approximate 40% chance the other would too.

Today we even select mates that resemble our own degree of body fat. In the 1940’s and 1950’s we married younger and had children younger. Mate selection was accomplished before people gained weight. Today we get heavier younger and marry and have children later, giving us more opportunity to select a mate based on weight. When two overweight people marry and have children they then pass along a double dose of genes that predispose to overweight.

We’ve made intense efforts to find biological reasons for obesity, but little has been done to examine the social spread of this disease. It may be much stronger than realized. The researchers found the social influence extended three degrees – to your friends’ friends’ friends. This isn’t all bad. If overweight is contagious, thinness can be as well. Support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) have clearly demonstrated that you can modify a person’s social network and behavior for the better. Weight Watchers and other weight loss programs do promote weight loss through support and social networking.

Where AA succeeds and weight loss groups don’t is the AA premise that there is a need for lifetime support. Those with more experience (years of sobriety) mentor those with less. Without support, people almost always regain their lost weight. Maybe we need to devise public health programs that provide lifetime maintenance for those who lose weight, so their social network promotes a more realistic, slimmer body image with positive eating and exercise messages.

Be Sociable, Share!

{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

where to buy green coffee bean extract June 28, 2013 at 4:50 am

I will right away clutch your rss feed as I can not find your e-mail subscription link or e-newsletter service.
Do you’ve any? Please allow me understand so that I may subscribe. Thanks.

Reply

Seasons Malibu Rehab June 28, 2013 at 6:59 am

Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I really appreciate your efforts and I
am waiting for your next post thanks once again.

Reply

elektronisk cigaret June 28, 2013 at 8:59 am

Do you mind if I quote a couple of your articles as long as I
provide credit and sources back to your blog? My blog is in the very same niche as yours and my users would genuinely benefit from some of the information you present here.

Please let me know if this ok with you. Thank you!

Reply

Jo Ann Heslin RD June 30, 2013 at 11:01 pm

You are welcome to reuse our material with credit and an a link back to http://www.TheNutritionExperts.com.

Reply

is raspberry ketone safe June 28, 2013 at 11:40 am

Wonderful blog! Do you have any suggestions for aspiring writers?

I’m hoping to start my own site soon but I’m a little lost on everything.
Would you advise starting with a free platform like Wordpress or go
for a paid option? There are so many options out there that I’m completely overwhelmed .. Any recommendations? Bless you!

Reply

voodoo spells June 29, 2013 at 1:46 am

Hmm is anyone else encountering problems with the pictures on this blog loading?
I’m trying to find out if its a problem on my end or if it’s the blog.

Any responses would be greatly appreciated.

Reply

Best Diet June 30, 2013 at 1:52 am

I’m excited to discover this site. I need to to thank you for ones time due to this fantastic read!! I definitely enjoyed every bit of it and I have you saved as a favorite to look at new stuff on your site.

Reply

Buy Targeted Facebook Fans July 1, 2013 at 3:48 am

magnificent issues altogether, you simply received a brand new reader.
What may you suggest about your submit that you simply made some
days ago? Any certain?

Reply

Seo company July 2, 2013 at 6:34 am

Having read this I thought it was rather informative.

I appreciate you taking the time and effort to put this informative article together.
I once again find myself spending a significant amount of time both reading and posting comments.
But so what, it was still worth it!

Reply

http://www.youtubegeek.com July 4, 2013 at 9:53 am

Thanks for finally writing about >Are Your Friends Helping to
Make You Fat? — The Nutrition Experts <Loved it!

Reply

garcinia cambogia August 6, 2013 at 12:31 am

I believe that is among the most significant information for me.
And i’m happy reading your article. However want to observation on some common things, The site style is wonderful, the articles is truly nice : D. Excellent activity, cheers

Reply

Laverne August 9, 2013 at 1:26 am

I am sure this paragraph has touched all the
internet people, its really really good post on building up new website.

Reply

Call Of Duty August 10, 2013 at 1:11 am

I am really thankful to the owner of this web page who has shared this great piece of writing at here.

Reply

Chicago Auto Accident Law August 16, 2013 at 1:58 am

This design is wicked! You most certainly know how
to keep a reader amused. Between your wit and your videos,
I was almost moved to start my own blog (well, almost…HaHa!) Excellent job.
I really enjoyed what you had to say, and more than that, how you presented it.
Too cool!

Reply

website August 20, 2013 at 1:29 am

Hi there, I desire to subscribe for this weblog to get
newest updates, thus where can i do it please help out.

Reply

web page August 26, 2013 at 8:34 am

Spot on with this write-up, I seriously think this amazing site needs far more attention.
I’ll probably be returning to read through more, thanks for the information!

Reply

web page August 29, 2013 at 5:27 am

Excellent, what a webpage it is! This blog provides valuable
data to us, keep it up.

Reply

self help books August 29, 2013 at 9:22 am

hey there and thank you for your info – I’ve definitely picked up anything
new from right here. I did however expertise some technical points using
this website, since I experienced to reload the site a lot of times previous to I could get it to load correctly.
I had been wondering if your hosting is OK? Not that I’m
complaining, but sluggish loading instances times will
sometimes affect your placement in google and can damage your high quality score if advertising and marketing with Adwords.
Anyway I am adding this RSS to my email and can look out for much more of
your respective exciting content. Make sure you update
this again very soon.

Reply

web design london August 29, 2013 at 9:24 am

Hello, I enjoy reading through your article. I like to write a little comment to support
you.

Reply

settlement loans August 30, 2013 at 12:55 am

Hmm it appears like your website ate my first
comment (it was extremely long) so I guess I’ll
just sum it up what I wrote and say, I’m thoroughly enjoying your blog.

I as well am an aspiring blog writer but I’m still new to everything.

Do you have any points for rookie blog writers? I’d genuinely appreciate it.

Reply

Vicky August 30, 2013 at 1:39 am

You really make it seem so easy with your presentation but I find this matter to be
really something which I think I would never understand. It seems too complicated and very broad for me.
I am looking forward for your next post, I’ll try to get the hang of it!

Reply

essay writing peer review August 30, 2013 at 3:28 am

Please let me know if you’re looking for a article author for your weblog.
You have some really great articles and I believe I would be a good asset.
If you ever want to take some of the load off, I’d absolutely love to write
some content for your blog in exchange for a link back to
mine. Please blast me an e-mail if interested. Thanks!

Reply

Pension Release help August 31, 2013 at 5:46 am

What’s up, I desire to subscribe for this blog to take most
recent updates, therefore where can i do it please help.

Reply

Susanne September 30, 2013 at 12:53 am

Hello, its fastidious article about media print, we all understand
media is a great source of facts.

Reply

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: