Hang Out Together, Get Fat Together

Study researches if obesity spreads socially

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Where do we get our self image from? How do we determine what an ideal body size is? Body image is very important to many women because looking good often makes someone feel good.

Researchers are suggesting self image comes from social surroundings, family and friends. Family and friends are important in many other aspects, so why couldn’t this be plausible?

"Women tend to mirror their social network."

Arizona State University was determined to shed some light on the obesity epidemic because so many people are at risk for being overweight or obese so quickly. There were 101 women who participated, along with their closest friends and family.

The researchers compared body mass index (BMI) between the women and their social network only to find that women were more likely to be obese if their social networks are obese.

That wasn’t enough though. Researchers wanted to know if shared ideals of acceptable body size might play a part on the spread of obesity. Three different pathways that could explain how women think were measured.

The team found no evidence on the first two pathways, but found some support for the third pathway; how women may simply observe friends and families bodies, which affects the way they eat and exercise.

This study has brought a different perspective to the obesity epidemic and maybe future researchers should focus more on what people are doing together, rather than what they think.

The Study

  • Daniel J. Hruschka is lead author from Arizona State University
  • 101 women plus 812 closest family and friends interviewed
  • Measured body mass index (BMI)
  • Risk of a woman’s obesity increased if her social network was obese
  • 3 pathways for how obesity spreads were examined: “You learn what an acceptable body size from your friends and family and then change your diet and exercise to achieve that”; “you might not agree with what your friends or family members think, but still feel pressure from them to achieve some ideal body size”; “you may form an idea of appropriate body size by simply observing your friend’s bodies, which in turn changes your eating and exercise habits”
  • Found no evidence for first two pathways; found support for third pathway
  • Main focus on what people do together rather than what they think
Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
May 6, 2011
Last Updated:
May 10, 2011