I've been smacked in the face with this concept a few times in the past month so I took it as a sign that I needed to write and share my thoughts.
Is Obesity Contagious?
We think of a lot of diseases to be contagious, the flu, a cold, but what about obesity? The American Medical Association back in 2013 actually changed it's stance on obesity and it is now classified as a disease. If you go to the CDC website it actually states that 36.5% of Americans "have" obesity. That word "have" struck me when I read it.
Philosophically that is a whole new ball game. Now a person isn't defined by being obese, they "aren't" obese they just "have" it. If you have something you can get rid of it, right??? That's good news! If you have it, does that also mean that you can give it to someone?
In 2007 researchers from Harvard published an article in The New England Journal for Medicine, The spread of obesity in a large social network over 32 years, that explains these concepts. Some things that stood out were, if you have a friend that is obese that you would be 57% more likely to obese yourself. The study didn't show that obesity was connected to geographical location. For example if you have a neighbor or coworker that is obese they won't rub off on you as much as someone which you actually have a close relationship.
"Obesity is a social disease. And it needs a social cure." - Dr. Mark Hyman
I love this line from Mark Hyman, "Obesity is a social disease and it needs a social cure." Unfortunately the population of the United States is heading in the wrong direction.
As of 2015 70.7% of Americans over the age of 20 are considered overweight or obese. If 71% of the population had a virus that was slowly killing you every government agency and medical professional would be hysterical in finding a cure. What gives? Why are people complacent about the disease of obesity?
I think it comes back to this being a social disease. If you walk down the street or through your office building and 7 in 10 people you walk past are overweight, doesn't that skew your perception of what is normal? Now instead of comparing yourself to the cover model on the magazine, I think people are comparing themselves to the people that are overweight or obese. The thought likely goes through their head either consciously or subconsciously, "Well at least I'm not as fat as that person, so I must not be that bad."
Then you have the people that use the genetic excuse as a crutch. The same study mentioned above found out that if a sibling became obese it raised your chances of becoming obese by 40%. So if your friend, that you have no similar genetic information as becomes obese it increases your chances by 57% but a family member only 40%. Wouldn't that suggest that obesity is more of a nurture disease rather than a nature disease?
Why does this matter?
Being overweight and obese can have serious health consequences. It can lead to things like diabetes, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, gallstones, cancer and increased joint pain. Not all overweight people will develop these diseases or will report negative biomarkers but it does raise your risk.
There is also a direct correlation to how overweight a person is and their activity level. So once you get trapped in the cycle of being overweight it becomes more and more difficult to lose weight. Your activity goes down, you burn fewer calories, you pack on more weight.
What do we do?
First thing I think we need to start treating being overweight or obese as a disease that needs treatment. It can't just be the way a person is... It can't be something we ignore thinking it is just a benign condition without consequences.
What actions do we need to take?
I believe as individuals we need to support people where they are at! Whether they are fit and lean or morbidly obese, we need to be there for a friends, family, and neighbors. We need to be encouragers! We can't wait for someone else to take action, you need to be the one! The one that gets moving! The one that cuts out a lot of the junk food! The one that eats more veggies! Do it with joy! Be contagious with your healthy behaviors!
That's why I love so much what we do! We get to be those influencers! More importantly we try to encourage others to pay it forward, to pass along what they learn and share with the people they care about.
We need to be interjectors of positivity and health into the cycle that people get stuck in. If you feel like you are stuck, find people that are going to lift you up and believe in you. Find someone that won't let you fail, aka stop!
Lastly, as a society we have become overweight and obese! It will only be as a society that we can solve this problem. We need to reset that trajectory that our country's health is on currently. Health can and needs to become more contagious than obesity! If you are ready to help be part of the change, share this post, reach out to a friend in need, or reach out to a friend that can help you!
The Cook & The Coach
Healthy is a LIFESTYLE.