Michael Fumento

What makes you fat? Eating cheesy-poofs while watching Seinfeld reruns? Wolfing down a Wendy's "Baconator,” a double cheeseburger with six strips of bacon that could feed everyone in Darfur for a week? How about when you get the urge to exercise you lie down until it goes away, as one CEO famously put it?

Yes, to all of the above. But these are all specific contributors to obesity driven by larger forces that are making us, well, larger. One of the most important of these, as new study in the New England Journal of Medicine shows, is that having fat social contacts makesyou fatter. Obesity is contagious.

It's unfortunate that while the response to this should be "Well, duh!" it's being treated as a revelation on par with the Pluto being demoted from planet status. All this was known a decade ago because I wrote about it in my 1997 book The Fat of the Land.

I've written that overweight and obesity isn't just the individual problem of lots of Americans (two thirds, actually), but even aside from the direct costs imposed on all of us including higher Medicare and Medicaid expenditures and costlier private health insurance premiums, it's both an individual and a national problem and should be treated as such.

The basic premise of obesity as contagion is simple: The more something becomes prevalent the more it becomes acceptable and the more of it you get. In a vicious cycle, more divorces begat more divorces, more unwed pregnancies begat more unwed pregnancies, more tattoos and piercings begat more self-mutilation (Er, “body art”) and so on. Obesity isn't just a physiological problem of too many calories in and too few out; it's a long term social problem.

In the study, researchers at Harvard and the University of California at San Diego followed a large social network of about 12,000 people over 32 years. The group included friends (whether they lived nearby or not), spouses, siblings, and neighbors. The fatter these were, the fatter the index person became.

Michael Fumento

Michael Fumento is a, journalist, and attorney specializing in science and health issues as well as author of BioEvolution: How Biotechnology is Changing Our World .

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