Friday, October 5, 2012

Birds of a Fitness Feather Part I: Can Fitness Be Contagious?

A few years ago I read an article in the New York Times Magazine that fascinated me. The title of the article, "Are Your Friends Making You Fat" was written in 2009 and discussed the research of Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler who believed that obesity (and other health behaviors and even attitudes) were contagious and could be spread among groups of friends and family members.

This idea really resonated with me. If we associate with people who are overweight, make poor food choices and are physically inactive, doesn't it just make sense that we would be more likely to be overweight, eat garbage and sit on our backsides? Modeling theory in psychology is based on the principle that people learn behaviors by watching and then imitating other's behaviors and that behaviors can be changed (ideally, for the better) by modeling behaviors in other people.

Nearly 70% of American adults are overweight or obese, less than 50% of us are getting the recommended amount of exercise; I heard David Katz, MD refer to the current American landscape as a "toxic environment" and certainly with numbers like these, it would be hard to disagree. So if obesity and related behaviors have a social contagion element, this could be Bad News Bears for our collective health.

But we can use the social contagion effect to our advantage when it comes to fitness by surrounding ourselves with fit people who are dedicated to exercise and healthy behaviors. In the upcoming blog posts I'll share my thoughts on how to identify (or create) a contagious environment and find especially infectious people. I bet you never considered that surrounding yourself with infectious contagious people would be good for your health, did you?

Posted by Rachel May
School of Health Sciences


Post a Comment

About Me

Kaplan Center for Health and Wellness
View my complete profile