Is obesity contagious? Can you catch it from your friends? And if you have skinny friends, can this help you lose weight?
According to new research this may, indeed, be the case.
Researchers at Harvard University say America's obesity epidemic won't plateau until at least 42 percent of adults are obese, according to mathematical modeling based on 40 years of research.
This new research, which recently was published in the journal "PLoS Computational Biology," runs counter to recent assertions by some experts that the obesity rate, which has been at 34 percent for the past five years, may have peaked. This figure doesn't take into account an additional 34 percent of American adults who are overweight but not obese, according to the federal government's Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
While studying the issue, the scientists also found that friends may be impacting each other's weight.
The Harvard scientists assert that the proliferation of adult obesity in recent decades may be due to social networks. They found that a non-obese American adult has a 2 percent chance of becoming obese in any given year, and that this number rises by 0.4 percentage points with each obese social contact, meaning that five obese contacts doubles the risk of becoming obese.
This may be because ideas about food portions, exercise and what counts as a normal body size all seem to be influenced by the people to whom we're connected.
However, you don't need to get rid of friends to manage your weight. That's because researchers also found that when one person loses weight, other people around that person lose weight, too.
This domino effect can be used to one's advantage by involving friends and family in weight management:
* Get a gym buddy or walking partner and use the time to connect as well as exercise. There's nothing better than laughing while on the treadmill.
* Cook family meals instead of calorie-heavy ones for the family and a "diet" version for you. You're less likely to feel deprived and your family will benefit as well.
* Be willing to have open, non-judgmental conversations about your struggles and accomplishments in losing weight. Don't be afraid to tell friends and family members --in a gentle manner --what helps and what doesn't.
* If you're having trouble finding a support team, make new friends who are facing the same issues. Groups like Overeaters Anonymous and WeightWatchers can provide the emotional support and camaraderie you need to achieve your weight-loss goals and maintain a healthy lifestyle.
If you're looking to support a loved one in his or her weight-loss program, try to avoid military-style "pep" talks or being critical in any way. While such strategies may lead to short-term action, they also can lead to long-term esteem problems.
Accepting your loved ones as they are, while cheering their efforts to engage in healthy activities, is the biggest gift you can give them.