Is Obesity Contagious?: Research Suggests There May be a Link

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Living in a neighborhood with a high rate of obesity might raise the odds that you and your children will become plus-sized, too.

That’s according to a new study involving more than 1,500 U.S. Army families. The researchers say their findings may help explain why high obesity rates in the United States tend to cluster in certain geographic areas.

“Living in a community where obesity is more of the norm than not can influence what is socially acceptable in terms of eating and exercise behaviors and body size,” explained study author Ashlesha Datar.

A phenomenon called “social contagion” may be at work, she said, though the study did not prove a cause-and-effect link.

The bottom line: “If more people around you are obese then that may increase your own chances of becoming obese,” said Datar, a senior economist at the University of Southern California Center for Economic and Social Research.

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SOURCES: Ashlesha Datar, Ph.D., senior economist and director, Program on Children and Families, Center for Economic and Social Research, University of Southern California, Los Angeles; Lona Sandon, R.D., assistant professor of clinical nutrition, and program director, department of clinical nutrition, school of health professions, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas; Jan. 22, 2018, JAMA, online

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