New Study: Obesity Can Be Socially Contagious

Remember when your mom and dad told you not to do everything your friends do? Well, maybe you didn’t have a choice!

According to a new study obesity is “socially contagious.” In other words, if your friends or family are getting fat, chances are you will too! Even more astonishing is that the results showed that even if your loved ones are far away, the social connection still plays a larger role in your weight than genetics do!

The study found that if your friend becomes obese you have a 57 percent chance of gaining weight, 40 percent if it’s your sibling gaining the weight, and 37 percent if it’s your spouse! On average, when an obese person gained 17 pounds, their corresponding friend put on five pounds! Researchers attribute this finding to the idea that relatives and friends influence our idea of what is an acceptable weight.

FNC wants to know what YOU think about this study! Is obesity really “contagious,” and how much do you think your friends and family influence your weight? E-mail us at!

Here's what FOX Fans are saying:

”Obesity, contagious? Give me a break. Do you smoke if your friends or family do? Drink? Does this mean that if you hang around with physically fit people, you will be physically fit? What a waste of time and money this study was. I know some people have diseases or take medicine that causes weight gain, but for others how often and what you eat is a choice that you make each day just like everything else. We are such a narcissistic society now that we find excuses for everything.” — Brian (Millbury, OH)

“No way — it’s completely false science.” — LeRoy

“This ‘study’ is beyond ridiculous. I just returned from a cruise where I saw more obese than thin people. I only eat two meals a day — small breakfast and small dinner — and I am thin. Being around fat people did not make me want to eat more or become fat. (I lost two pounds on the cruise.) Does hanging around with thin people cause one to be thin? Fat people eat too much and too many meals a day. Being around them does not make me eat any more than my usual habits.” — Naoma

“Yes, I do agree. It is absolutely true. Just take a look around wherever you go. People reflect one another. I believe that is why you see so much more obesity now than ever before, and it has become socially acceptable. I guess the old adage is true that misery loves company!” — DJ

“I am not sure it is socially contagious, I just think that so many of our gatherings include food as a main course. Business meetings often have meals catered or a very liberal meal allowance. When families and friends get together, or perhaps a Church social, there is usually a barbeque along with a ‘bring and share’ dish. People used to have picnics by the lake or in a park. There the children and some adults would engage in a game of baseball, horse shoes, croquet or volleyball. One does not see so much of that anymore. We are high tech and can play all those games and more on a handheld electronic contraption. There is also the PC. Personal Computers are very challenging and fun for every one, of all ages. But there has to be a happy medium. Chips, cookies or soft drinks are usually kept close by. In this situation, one is inactive while eating junk food. Double whammy!” — Katherine

“You can't ‘catch’ obesity, so, no, it is not contagious. There are a number of factors here that account for the phenomenon of raging obesity among friends and relatives. Genetics play a role. People who are obese tend to socialize with those they find most acceptant of their weight. On the other hand, people who are most concerned about their weight and in controlling it tend to avoid those who don't, as it makes their task of weight control much easier. There are exceptions, of course, but most social relationships are founded on like interests and concerns. Hence, it should come as no surprise that obese people and their friends eventually share consumption habits.” — Phil (East Greenbush, NY)

“I've had overweight friends and that hasn't affected my weight at all. I say this is all a myth. How about if you have skinny friends, will that make you skinny, too?” — Preemie

“I would LOVE to blame someone else for my extra pounds. Although it is true that people can make it very difficult for you to eat correctly, the final choice is always yours. Of course, children would have difficulty doing this if the parents are serving junk food. People should not eat products containing sugar, white flour, excess salt and partially hydrogenated fat. Most people already know this and do it anyway. Junk food should be taxed, and the tax should go to pay for health care, in my opinion. Adam tried to blame Eve when he ate the apple in the Garden of Eden. Maybe Eve influenced him, but Adam made the final choice.”— Ron and Pat

“I think obesity probably is in some ways 'contagious.' The people you associate with definitely influence your habits; peer pressure is commonly associated with drug use, so why not overeating? If your friends always eat larger portions you may start to eat larger portions, too, and if they always take you to the same restaurants, they may help you develop a taste for the less healthy foods. Also obese friends are less likely to be able to motivate you to stay fit and lose weight. Friends who are already in shape can easily give you advice or get you started down the road to fitness leading by example. On the other side, there could be a slight mix-up of cause and correlation. Obese people may be more likely to associate with other obese people. The correlation of obese siblings could easily be explained by blaming their parents. I think that overall it is probably a mixture of both elements. You definitely will not get obese from just being a friend with someone obese, perhaps if you were already in good shape you could help them.” — Max (UK)

“Why do they blame obesity on everything other than what it is: poor diet, lack of exercise and the Internet. I went to my granddaughter’s school and could not believe what I saw. It was like a food court at the mall, and what do you expect? In my school we had vending machines with juice and fruit. We had a cafeteria with a planned lunch and a menu printed for the entire month. If you didn't like what was being served you brought your lunch. I don't remember a problem with kids being overweight. Drive around your town and see how many kids are playing in the parks. I don't mean young children, but older kids in their teens playing baseball or tag football. And I don't mean structured sports like little league baseball. So I don't buy this notion that it is caused by your friend being overweight. I bet if you ask of the teens today what their favorite thing to do is they would answer the mall, search the Internet, or playing computer games. Do you realize that millions of people don't even get out of their cars to have dinner? And you wonder why we have an obesity problem. If your friend is causing you to be obese, you might want to find some other friends.” Bob (Ellensburg, WA)

“There's probably a grain of truth to this study. I can remember gaining ‘sympathy weight’ during my wife's pregnancies. Also, people tend to affiliate with others most like themselves; eating (and other) habits can be a group dynamic. When parents educate their children about healthy choices, and practice it themselves, there's a better chance the kids won't be obese.” — Doc Peter

“I think it's more that the friend gets caught up in the feeding frenzy. So, I guess you could say it's contagious, but I think saying that is a bit of a stretch.” — Suzanne (Gainesville, GA)

“My sense is that people seek out those that make them feel good about themselves. This study seems to be trying to mitigate personal responsibility. While there are some whose physiology may be causing the problem, most people just need to be accountable for poor eating habits. They do not need others to provide them with excuses and sympathy.” — Nick