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Social contagion? Yeah, right.

Does anyone else remember those "social contagion" studies of a few years ago? The ones that were trumpeted in the press and cited as evidence that obesity, smoking, loneliness and depression are spread through social networks?

I don't know about you, but when I read about those studies, my bullshit-o-meter (a sensitive scientific instrument!) was going NAW! NAW! NAW! and flashing a big red light.

Loneliness is spread through social networks? Seriously? Isn't that kind of self contradictory? And things like obesity and depression, which are not behaviors but conditions that have a very significant genetic component... through social networks? No, I don't think so.

There are so many better reasons that people with these conditions/behaviors might be friends. They might come from the same extended family or ethnic community. They might need to shop for clothing in the same stores. And in general, people tend to seek out others like themselves for friendship. You really have to wonder about the researchers' motivations. Were they were just trying to justify their own snobbishness and social bias?

Well, apparently some experts on statistics thought the same thing, and they've recently published two papers debunking the methods that were employed in the 'social contagion' studies. There's an article in the New York Times, Catching Obesity From Friends May Not Be So Easy, and you can download the full text of both of the new studies for free:

Tasty Morsels | Study supports link between dieting, subsequent weight gain

richie79's picture
August 10th, 2011 | Link | I hope someone tells our

I hope someone tells our wonderful Government, who actually referenced the social contagion theory as though it was something settled and widely accepted in their Public Health White Paper last year. But I doubt it. The statistical complexity behind the latest study (coupled with what some will no doubt see, like anything which casts doubt on any of the indisputable truisms of the obesity panic, as a defence of being fat) doesn't sell papers or boost page hits anywhere near as effectively as 'Fat is Catching! Stay away from Fatties or end up Fat Just Like Them too!'

On a (somewhat) tangentially related note, fat might not spread through social networks but fat hate certainly does. According to this (and many similar) Facebook page, the photo on which has 'gone viral' in the hours following the widespread breakdown of social order in the UK, we're even being blamed for the rioting and looting. Going on the example set by this woman (who by the way the commenters are carrying on you'd expect to be really, visibly fat, but really isn't) our insatiable appetite for food can even cause us to smash our way into £1 shops to steal potato crisps and Haribo sweets. Way to take one physical aspect of a person's identity and construct all manner of motives and stereotypes around it.

"What is right is not always popular and what is popular is not always right" - Albert Einstein

richie79's picture
August 11th, 2011 | Link | Absolutely Emerald. I think

Absolutely Emerald. I think we're recalling the same story, the comments on which were so appalling they took even me by surprise. As you say, being fat is now routinely portrayed as every bit as much of a crime as whatever the person concerned happens to be on trial for or convicted of, and indicative of a general lack of decency or normality.

And it's not just crime stories either; consider the scores of weight related comments on the story of a Scottish couple who scooped the Euromillions jackpot last month. I'd like to think jealousy played a part in that particular frenzy of spite but I suspect it has more to do with the way in which the merest mention of 'fat' now sends the average British tabloid reader into a frothing fit of rage.

The way in which the media have systematically used repetition of stereotypes and biased portrayals of fat people in their stories to skew public opinion and whip up anger and resentment strikes me as a deliberate and orchestrated propaganda campaign, to what ultimate end we can currently only guess. For me the most disappointing thing about the recent 'phone hacking' scandal is the way in which the rest of the media deliberately suppressed the flickers of a wider debate about press tactics and the power the press and news media weild over British society. The DM in particular is a festering sore in our social fabric, bent on generating hate and division at every possible opportunity.

"What is right is not always popular and what is popular is not always right" - Albert Einstein

Keechypeachy August 10th, 2011 | Link | Erin, I must say I'm rather

Erin, I must say I'm rather tired of recipes that have agave nectar and grapeseed oil in them, like those trendy ingredients are any different sugars and oils than any other. Just more expensive. And what all those people forget or don't know, is that butter is good for your brain and making your brain happy. Bring back butter! Smiling

I'd also like to say that my sister and I have been friends hanging out together and doing stuff together since we were kids, and she has yet to catch TE FATNESS off me. Smiling

worrier August 11th, 2011 | Link | "Even healthy recipes don't

"Even healthy recipes don't escape. "We all need to cook like this, because it's healthier and we wouldn't be SO FAT!!!"... well... who the heck is stopping you? Is my fat ass in the way at the vegetable stand or something? Am I blocking the jars of essence of self loathing?"

I just love your turns of phrases. Keep writing.


pani113's picture
August 24th, 2011 | Link | No surprise to any of us

No surprise to any of us with a brain. Here was my take on it which I wrote back then -
Don't Punt Plump Pals Too Promptly!!!

"Fat can be beautiful. Intolerance is ALWAYS ugly!"

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