NYT: Fatness Spreads Like a Virus!

July 26, 2007 at 2:56 pm (injustice, politics, stupidity) (, , , , )

Lots of folks are talking about this new study saying that obesity is “contagious”: when one person gains weight, her close friends are likely to gain weight, too, and the weight gain of friends has a bigger impact than the weight of relatives. The secret here is, of course, that a human’s self-image, self-worth, and sense of normalcy are all very much tied up with her peer group. If all your friends are staving themselves, you might feel like you should starve yourself, too. If all your friends are vegetarians, you might consider cutting meat out of your diet. And the same goes for obesity. Everything spreads through peer groups, just look at any cluster of adolescents. IPods, drug use, Marxism, and self-mutilation all seep easily from one kid to another, if my experience is any guide.

But the New York Times “fatness is a virus!” take on things is bullshit. Hugo Schwyzer notes the madness that occurs in the very first sentence, which I somehow missed in my first reading. All emphasis mine:

Obesity can spread from person to person, much like a virus, researchers are reporting today. When a person gains weight, close friends tend to gain weight, too. . . . Dr. Nicholas Christakis, a physician and professor of medical sociology at Harvard Medical School and a principal investigator in the new study, says one explanation is that friends affect each others’ perception of fatness. When a close friend becomes obese, obesity may not look so bad.

“You change your idea of what is an acceptable body type by looking at the people around you,” Dr. Christakis said.

When your best friend is fat, suddenly fat people are human! Horror of horrors!

If the new research is correct, it may mean that something in the environment seeded what many call an obesity epidemic, leading a few people to gain weight. Then social networks let the obesity spread rapidly.

It also may mean that the way to avoid becoming fat is to avoid having fat friends.

That is not the message they meant to convey, say the study investigators, Dr. Christakis and his colleague, James Fowler, an associate professor of political science at the University of California in San Diego.

You don’t want to lose a friend who becomes obese, Dr. Christakis said. Friends are good for your overall health, he explains. So why not make friends with a thin person, he suggests, and let the thin person’s behavior influence you and your obese friend?

You know what? It’s awful that so many people in the US are terribily unhealthy. I wish everyone ate nothing but healthy, organic, local, sustainable food, and walked or biked to work, and had great sex, and read great books, and spent plenty of time with their friends and families. Really, I do.

Now, if one person is living an unhealthy life, and experiences bodily complications as a result, maybe that’s her fault. If one person is genetically predisposed to have a certain body, then whatever. But when we’ve got a goddamned epidemic on our hands, I think it’s extremely stupid to blame those suffering people for it. It’s like blaming women for the pay gap. We have an obesity epidemic in this country because the car companies and real estate folks teamed up against the people to create a world of ugly, endless, identical suburbs in which everyone is forced to drive everywhere, and the government teamed up with big agribusiness to subsidize the living hell out of food that is poison both to our bodies and our planet, and the government sold our elementary schools to Coca-Cola so our kids are fed processed shit while our parents are locked into minimum wage jobs where they make just enough money to barely afford more processed shit to feed the kids at home, and then when all the shit and poison makes everybody sick, no one can afford decent healthcare, and on top of it we’ve got the fucking New York Times saying that maybe now we should deprive people of friendship, too. Friendship! The last vestige of human dignity. Come on.



  1. ClapSo said,

    It’s a shame isn’t it? Overweight people have become the “new smokers.” Now that the “experts” have “proven” that being overweight can be “caught” It’s only a matter of time before they institute a “fat tax.”

    The causes of obesity you list are the kind of thinking that can lead to solutions. Thanks for this post!

    The scientifically impossible I do right away
    The spiritually miraculous takes a bit longer

  2. Daisy said,

    Thanks for reading, ClapSo!

  3. Employers Punishing Workers for Their Weight « Our Descent Into Madness said,

    […] assholes, stupidity) Commenter ClapSo made a pretty dire prediction the other day, after reading this post, that turned out to be right on the […]

  4. Cris said,

    Scary ! What’s next–“ugly discrimination?” Who decides? reminds me of the flight attendant a few years back who was harassed on the job for not wearing makeup.

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