Is Obesity Risk ‘Socially Contagious’?

Does exposure to communities with higher rates of obesity increase the body mass index (BMI) and risk of overweight/obesity of individual residents?

Using data from military service members assigned to installations around the country, this study found that exposure to counties with higher rates of obesity (relative to counties with lower obesity rates) was associated with higher mean BMI and greater odds of obesity in parents and higher BMI z scores and greater odds of overweight/obesity in children. Associations were stronger among families who had resided longer in a given location and with off-installation residence; no evidence supported self-selection or shared built environment as explanations for these results.

Exposure to communities with higher rates of obesity is associated with higher BMI and greater risk of overweight and/or obesity in parents and children, and this may suggest the presence of social contagion.

Jama Network: Association of Exposure to Communities With Higher Ratios of Obesity with Increased Body Mass Index and Risk of Overweight and Obesity Among Parents and Children