Obesity the virus – Social medicine and you

In Uncategorized on November 11, 2009 at 7:22 pm
Interesting article, bad science reporting.

Thought provoking post but somewhat misleading.

"Social Medicine

“Wash your hands regularly.” “Cover your mouth when you sneeze.” “Throw away your used tissues.” These are some of the exhortations currently posted around London in an attempt to reduce the spread of flu. But one day, perhaps we’ll have public health campaigns of a different kind. “Be jolly: it’s catching.” Or, “Eat less: do it for your friends.”

Why? Because “traditional” infectious diseases — those, like flu and tuberculosis, that are caused by viruses or bacteria — are not the only aspects of health that can spread from one person to another. Taking up smoking is contagious; so is quitting. Obesity is contagious. So is happiness.

At least, these are the results coming in from long-term studies of social networks — the networks of friends and families, neighbors and colleagues that we all belong to. Such studies have found that one person’s change in behavior ripples through his or her friends, family and acquaintances. If one of your friends becomes happy, for example, you’re more likely to become happy too. If you’re great friends with someone who becomes obese, you’re much more likely to become obese as well.

And the effect doesn’t stop there. If your friend’s friend becomes happy, that increases the chance your friend will become happy — and that you will too. Conversely, if you become obese or depressed, you may inadvertently help your friends, and your friend’s friends, to become fat or gloomy. (Intriguingly, happiness and obesity seem to spread in different ways. Obesity spreads most easily between friends of the same sex who are emotionally close. Happiness spreads most readily between friends who live near each other: a happy friend on the same block makes more difference than a happy friend three miles away.)…….. "  – Olivia Judson  – The New York times

Lively comment debate taking place over on the site, my contribution:

Obesity is not contagious but the activities that lead to it may be more likely to spread among people in some close social networks. This is hardly surprising as common behaviour, mirroring and reinforcement are all things to be expected from members of a close social network.

A social network has Roles Norms and Values people within this network fit within tolerance on factors that are relevant to a given network forming.   

When a new factor/trait is introduced it will either be ignored, embraced or rejected by the network which will then shift accordingly. 

A cold virus when introduced to a group will spread given enough time and a conducive environment this is biology.   A person in a group getting fat could have zero effect on one group or a big effect on another. Which factor would spread would be very, very random and group dependent.

The science bit of the article is that the spread of these social factors shares some properties with the way a virus would spread in a group of the same size. Note it is the way something spreads not the way a that a particular trait (smoking, fatness, happiness etc)  spreads which is the factor here.  So please don’t start avoiding your friends on the basis they are putting on weight. 

Posted via email from wrdeer


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