A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that obesity can spread through social connections. The researchers call it ‘social contagion,’ where people who become obese tend to influence their friends and family and convey the subliminal message that being overweight is acceptable. Researchers used data from a long-term heart disease study based in Massachusetts, which involved 12,000 people. The study evaluated the addresses of the participants, heights, and weights as well as names of their close friends. The researchers tracked social connections over a 32-year period and then examined individuals’ BMI, weight and height for signs of obesity. The results showed that an individual's chances of becoming obese increased by 57% if a friend grew obese and increased by 171 % if a very close friend grew obese, often within a span of three to four years. “We were stunned to find that friends who are hundreds of miles away have just as much impact on a person's weight as those who are geographically close,” said James Fowler, study author. This fact led researchers to think that the 'social contagion' wasn't just about eating together, but about sharing ideas of acceptable appearance. The study doesn't challenge or replace the effects of genetics, a sedentary lifestyle or overeating as contributors to obesity.
Researchers at the New Zealand's National Research Center for Growth and Development and The University of Southampton found that a poor diet during pregnancy might lead the child to become obese as an adult. A preliminary study conducted two years ago, involved dosing newborn rats that had been undernourished in the womb, and were thus at risk of growing into obese adults, with the hormone leptin. Leptin is a hormone associated with metabolism and the body's signal to the brain that it is full. The second study evaluated the long-term effects of prenatal malnutrition and leptin treatment on key genes that control metabolism of adult rats. They found that rats with well-fed mothers reacted to leptin in the opposite way as rats with malnourished mothers. The study has raised questions about the nutritional signals received by individuals in their fetal stage and the possibility that humans might be programmed to be fat or thin depending on nutritional signals they received in the womb.
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