Obesity Tied to Social Networking

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By Rachel Stockton (rachels@foodconsumer.org)


People are starting to get a little prickly when it comes to the obesity issue.

And, it's no wonder. Overweight people have oft complained that they are socially vilified in a nation that "encourages" youth, beauty, and a dress size in the lower single digits.

These days, however, obesity is coming under scrutiny because of the upcoming health care reforms that are looming on the horizon of our national consciousness. Added to that is a report in the New England Journal of Medicine that uses words like "contagion" when referring to the effect friends have on a person's weight, and you have a lot of overweight people who feel as though they are in the hot seat.

But the fact remains that the research touted in the reputable journal proves a definite social link, when it comes to whether or not a person becomes obese or not. According to the study, if your close friend becomes obese, you are 57% more likely to gain weight yourself, even if your buddy lives across the continent rather than across the street.

Teenagers also follow the lead of their peers when it comes to BMI; whether or not this is because overweight teens are more likely to hang out with others who are also overweight, or if eating habits are as "catching" as mono, remains a little murky.

The trick here lies in the way in which we convey to young people that weight matters; not because a child is less of a person when he is overweight, but because his or her quality of life will be better if he or she is active and is getting enough healthy nutrients without loading up on empty calories. Sandra Tester, a licensed therapist in Arkansas stresses that parents need to practice ways to communicate acceptance to a child who is overweight, while still motivating him or her to try and learn new ways of eating.


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