Obesity is on the rise worldwide and there is no better time to watch your weight than now because of the negative effects it presents. While there maybe many reasons for obesity ranging from genetics to eating too much fast food, a new study suggests another explanation: your neighbours!
A study Published in JAMA Pediatrics, sought to find out if people who live in communities where the majority of people are obese are more likely to become obese by association, just like how contagious diseases such as flu spreads from person to person. In other words, is obesity contagious?
From November 2016 to October 2017, study authors Ashlesha Datar, Ph.D., Director of Program on Children and Families at USC’s Dornsife Center for Economic and Social Research, and Nancy Nicosia, Ph.D., senior economist at the RAND Corporation, gathered data from 1,519 military families which included men, women, and children all across the United States that had varying levels of obesity.
Military families were chosen for the study primarily because they cannot choose where they live and are rather assigned to installations. Some of the military installations are in places with higher rates of obesity while others are in counties with lower rates of obesity. This primarily allowed the researches to determine whether living in communities with a higher risk of obesity increases one’s own risk of being obese.
The results of the research concluded that for every 1 percent increase in an area’s obesity rate, the risk of a teenager becoming overweight went up between 4 and 6 percent, and the risk of an adult becoming overweight went up by 5 percent.
The findings of the study was attributed to the social contagion theory which follows that if more people around you are obese, that may increase your own chances of becoming obese. As such, living in a community where obesity is more common can make sedentary lifestyles, unhealthy eating, and overweight or obesity more socially acceptable.
Furthermore, the researchers found out that families exposed to more obese communities reported being less physically active, less likely to have a healthier home environment (tons of junk food in their cabinets and no limit on how much of it they ate), and less likely to cook at home.
The researchers are following the military families that participated in the study overtime and hope to have specific data on the weight changes of participants starting from when they began living in their current counties in the near future.
However, their findings so far don’t only apply to military families. The researchers suggests that the rate of overweight or obesity in military families is close to that in the civilian population. Especially since a growing proportion of military families live outside the installation in civilian communities, and their children largely attend public schools.
As such, the researchers believe that their findings will also help to shed light on risk factors for obesity in the general population.
It is important to note that obesity comes with health risks such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and heart disease which is a leading cause of death in young adults.
Combining regular exercise with a healthy diet is the best way to get yourself down to a healthy weight. Starting small such as by taking the stairs more often instead of the elevator will go a long way. Also, try focusing on finding a routine that works for you, otherwise you’ll be less likely to keep it up.