Friday, July 27, 2007

"Obesity" found to spread socially

There's an element of naivety in the report below. They have certainly rediscovered the old truth that like flocks with like but to say that somebody else CAUSES you to be overweight is hyperbole. As is usual in politically correct research, they have ignored the role of social class. Working class people tend to be fatter and tend to live in their own localities. That alone may well explain most of the results

Are your friends making you fat? Or keeping you slim? The answer may be yes, to both. Obesity spreads among friends and family members in a sort of social contagion, a study has found. So your chances of becoming obese may almost triple if a close friend is that way.

Part of the reason seems to be that each person influences the "social norm" for his or her circle, researchers theorized. That is, "people come to think that it is okay to be bigger since those around them are bigger," said Nicholas Christakis of Harvard Medical School in Boston, one of the study's authors. "Consciously or unconsciously, people look to others when they are deciding how much to eat, how much to exercise and how much weight is too much," added coauthor James Fowler of the University of California San Diego.

Surprisingly, the influence seems stronger among friends than among family members, the researchers added. The study appears in the July 26 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

Fowler and Christakis scoured data covering 32 years for over 12,000 adults who underwent repeated medical tests as part of the Framingham Heart Study, a longterm project administered by the U.S. National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. Archived records from this study reveal not only family members of the participants, but also friends, whose names they wrote down so that researchers could find them if they moved.

Fowler and Christakis used this data for a new purpose: drawing up a giant map of the participants' social networks. The map also includes information on the participants' bodymass index, a commonly accepted measure of body fat. Among the first things the researchers noticed was that -- consistent with other studies finding an obesity epidemic in the U.S.the whole network grew heavier over time.

Also obvious were distinct clusters of thin and heavy individuals, Fowler and Christakis said. Statistical analysis found that these clusters couldn't be attributed only to people making friends with others of comparable weight: rather, they gain or lose weight under friends' influences.

There's "a direct, causal relationship," said Christakis. "It's not that obese or non-obese people simply find other similar people to hang out with." Nor could the effect be chalked up only to similarities in lifestyle and environment, such as people eating the same foods or living in the same area, the researchers added. "Your friend who's 500 miles away has just as much impact on your obesity as [one] next door," said Fowler, a political scientist and expert in social networks.

If a person that a participant listed as a friend was obese, the researchers found, the participant's own chances of becoming obese rose 57 percent. If two people listed each other as friends, the effect multiplied in strength: increase in obesity risk shot up 171 percent. Among siblings, they found, if one becomes obese, the likelihood for the other to do so rises 40 percent; among spouses, 37 percent. No effect was found among neighbors, unless they were friends too.

Fowler and Christakis said they believe people affect not only each other's behaviors but also, more subtly, social norms. They came to this conclusion partly because the study also identified a larger effect among people of the same sex.

The study suggests that in addition to looking for genes and physical processes behind obesity, researchers "should spend time looking at the social side," said Fowler. There are profound policy implications, he added. The social effects extend three degrees of separation -- to your friends' friends' friends -- [indicative of a social class effect] so "when we help one person lose weight, we're not just helping one person, we're helping many," he said. "That needs to be taken into account by policy analysts and also by politicians who are trying to decide what the best measures are for making society healthier."

But "It's important to remember," Fowler said, "that we've not only shown that obesity is contagious but that thinness is contagious."


Britain: Radiation phobics exposed as nutters

People who believe that mobile telephone masts are causing them to feel unwell are deluding themselves, according to a study at Essex University. The three-year study, one of the largest of its kind, found that such people do experience symptoms when they know that they are exposed to radio waves, but they cannot detect when the waves are turned on and off, disproving their belief that they are “radiosensitive”. In double-blind trials -- in which neither participants nor experimenters knew whether the signals were on or off -- no health effects were detected. The finding adds to earlier research suggesting that radiosensitivity is an illusion.

Professor Elaine Fox said that radiosensitivity complainants had genuine symptoms, but phone masts were not the cause. In the past, she said, similar symptoms were reported in relation to TV sets and microwave ovens. It appears that about 4 per cent of the population claim to experience symptoms and tend to project them on to new technologies. The project was designed to investigate whether the effect was caused by phone masts.

Volunteers who claimed to be radiosensitive were matched against those who did not. Both groups were told when the signals were being switched on and off. The radiosensitive group reported headaches and malaise, but the team concluded that the symptoms were triggered by the knowledge of exposure. The researchers then conducted the double-blind trials. If radiosensitivity were a real phenomenon, alleged sufferers should have been able to detect changes and report symptoms. They did not.

Two of the 44 sensitive individuals, and 5 of the 114 controls, judged correctly when the mast was on or off in all six 50-minute tests -- exactly the proportion expected by chance. Professor Fox said: “Belief is very powerful. There are real, clinical effects.” David Coggon, of the University of Southampton, said: “This is consistent with earlier research in suggesting that symptoms of electrosensitivity are psychological in origin.” The study was funded by the Mobile Telecommunications and Health Research programme, with half of the money provided by Government and half by the mobile phone industry.



Just some problems with the "Obesity" war:

1). It tries to impose behavior change on everybody -- when most of those targeted are not obese and hence have no reason to change their behaviour. It is a form of punishing the innocent and the guilty alike. (It is also typical of Leftist thinking: Scorning the individual and capable of dealing with large groups only).

2). The longevity research all leads to the conclusion that it is people of MIDDLING weight who live longest -- not slim people. So the "epidemic" of obesity is in fact largely an "epidemic" of living longer.

3). It is total calorie intake that makes you fat -- not where you get your calories. Policies that attack only the source of the calories (e.g. "junk food") without addressing total calorie intake are hence pissing into the wind. People involuntarily deprived of their preferred calorie intake from one source are highly likely to seek and find their calories elsewhere.

4). So-called junk food is perfectly nutritious. A big Mac meal comprises meat, bread, salad and potatoes -- which is a mainstream Western diet. If that is bad then we are all in big trouble.

5). Food warriors demonize salt and fat. But we need a daily salt intake to counter salt-loss through perspiration and the research shows that people on salt-restricted diets die SOONER. And Eskimos eat huge amounts of fat with no apparent ill-effects. And the average home-cooked roast dinner has LOTS of fat. Will we ban roast dinners?

6). The foods restricted are often no more calorific than those permitted -- such as milk and fruit-juice drinks.

7). Tendency to weight is mostly genetic and is therefore not readily susceptible to voluntary behaviour change.

8). And when are we going to ban cheese? Cheese is a concentrated calorie bomb and has lots of that wicked animal fat in it too. Wouldn't we all be better off without it? And what about butter and margarine? They are just about pure fat. Surely they should be treated as contraband in kids' lunchboxes! [/sarcasm].

Trans fats:

For one summary of the weak science behind the "trans-fat" hysteria, see here. Trans fats have only a temporary effect on blood chemistry and the evidence of lasting harm from them is dubious. By taking extreme groups in trans fats intake, some weak association with coronary heart disease has at times been shown in some sub-populations but extreme group studies are inherently at risk of confounding with other factors and are intrinsically of little interest to the average person.


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