One more study confirms what many of us have already heard: You are more likely to be obese if you have obese friends.
It makes sense. When work is tough, we call our girlfriends for nachos and commiseration. On road trips with a football game at our alma mater, we cheer as we swing through a drive-thru. We're so happy to make our schedules work over the holidays with our closest friends, that we stack the buffet table with drippy, greasy, comforting splurges. In the joyous occasions, tough times, and rituals, our friends are there, often bearing calories, fat grams, and trigger foods along with the hugs, inside jokes, and support.
Of course, friendships are not that simple and how we get -- or risk getting -- obese is not that simple either. Some of us have friends who run alongside us, encourage us to get back to eating well at home, or provide inspiration and a shining example of health and wellness. And that's great and how should be and, according to this most recent research, not happening nearly enough.
Harvard scientists say that, according to their analysis, 42% of American adults will be obese in the next 40 years. This is not as alarming as last week's findings from another study by the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development projecting that three out of four people in the countries they studied, including the U.S., will be obese by the year 2020. However, whether half or three-quarters of the adult population in this country is obese in the decades ahead, there remains big concern about what those rates will mean for disease prevention and management, the health care system, and the health of children growing up during that time.
The Harvard study also looked at why obesity appears to be "contagious" among friends and how that contributes to the overall epidemic. While the reason can only be hypothesized at this point, researchers say their findings clearly show that the more obese friends you have, the more likely it is that you will be obese as well.
"We find that having four obese friends doubled people's chance of becoming obese compared to people with no obese friends," lead author Alison Hill reported.
While forty years or even a decade might seem too far away to be concerned about, especially when there are upcoming holidays and this year to wrap up, perhaps it is exactly the right time to take these studies seriously. Rather than think of them as amorphous visions of someday in the future, what if we brought those projections into the present?
What if we got really honest about ourselves, our friends, our families, how healthy we truly are right now, and what small and significant changes we can make as soon as today so we're not a statistic in the obesity epidemic ten or forty years from now?
It's not easy to do this, but it seems that if obesity influences people, so can wellness. Here are a few questions to take your own inventory:
- Are you at a comfortable, healthy weight today? Are you active? What's your doctor's assessment of your health and activity level?
- Are the people you spend time with at home, in the office, or socially health-minded? Do they eat nutritiously? Are they fit, no matter what their size?
- Which of your friends would cheer you on if you were to make a positive and healthy change like joining a walking club or cutting back on caffeine? Which of your friends are saboteurs or just aren't interested in helping out others who want to get healthy?
- How do each of these friends serve you?
- What can you change at this holiday season's gatherings, parties, and events so that next year, you and your friends are not one month closer to those scary statistics?