Thursday, July 26, 2007

Fat is Contagious?!!!

The New York Times relegated accounts of Josh Bolton and Harriet Miers having been voted in contempt of Congress to page 13 and the story of Egyptian and Jordanian leaders meeting with Israelis in an effort to reinvigorate peace talks to page 12, clearing the front page for news that having a friend become obese increases our risk of becoming fat.

A study published in The New England Journal of Medicine that closely followed a network of 12,067 people over 32 years concluded that close friends (even if physically separated) have a greater impact on our own weight gain or loss than family members or neighbors.

Many of the researchers were, not surprisingly, surprised by these findings. One investigator tried to make sense of the results by speculating that we may rethink our perception of what's an acceptable body image by looking around us. I don't buy that, and support my position by pointing to Al Gore. Plenty of us have been looking at him and I've yet to hear anyone say, "Hey, he's not looking bad with all those extra pounds. I'm going to put on weight". As for friends impacting on one another, we have only to look at Laurel & Hardy or Oprah Winfrey & Gayle King? And regardless of how many pounds Harvey Fierstein and Liza Minelli collectively put on, most of the gay community remains trim.

The doctor responsible for this unusual project was as astonished as I am that he was able to pull it off and explains that it was possible only because he learned about a study on heart disease, which had tracked the population of Framingham, Mass. for decades. Able to access their data, he then did a social analysis. This story will, no doubt, be picked up and discussed on TV and at salad bars everywhere, which is why I'd like to weigh in at the start of the conversation by saying it defies my understanding...unless the obese people in Framingham all had friends who suggested meeting up at Disney World, which (and this is totally unscientific) seems to have more than its share of overweight people. I expect a follow-up study will implicate the churro.

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