Stigma and Obesity

I wrote a post a while back about social stigma and obesity. This article draws up some recent findings in a fascinating way. The crux of the study that came out is this is:

[Risk of Obesity -] Genetics can’t explain it, since having a fat friend was more likely to predict a person’s obesity than having a fat sibling was. Environmental constraints can’t explain it, since faraway friends made a difference, while next-door neighbors didn’t. Availability of food can’t explain it, since friends had a bigger effect than spouses did. Nor can sheer imitative eating, since faraway friends had as big an effect as local friends did.

This is fascinating. It’s saying that social shame and social validation are two of the most powerful factors in our lives. That’s crazy. Even more interesting:

Fowler cautioned that studies “suggest that having more friends makes you healthier. So the last thing that you want to do is get rid of any of your friends.” Christakis added, “We are not suggesting that people should sever ties with their overweight friends. But forming ties with underweight or normal weight friends may be beneficial to you.”

Which is even more fascinating, that your group of friends can have serious ramifications on your health. Julie and I are addicted to the show Big Medicine. It’s about 2 doctors who perform gastric bypasses in Houston, TX. It’s sensational and it’s voyeurism, but it constantly begs the question, “How do people get that big?” And this study makes me wonder. Is it just the lack of friends? Would they have been able to hold steady at 300 pounds rather than ballooning up to 500 if they had had skinny friends (or even other 300 pound friends)? If this is really true, then we are so important to each other. Our behavior impacts each other on such a fundamental level. How are we impacting the world? When we judge, are we judging to make it a better place, or are we judging to try to get others to join us in our misery? What part of our lives does this not touch? Are we perhaps less individuals and more like a herd than we’d like to think?