Vickie Webb stands in the door way of her apartment after checking her blood… (Jim R. Bounds / Associated…)
Poverty and obesity appear to go hand in hand — and now, a new paper shows that poor people who move out of low-income housing into better neighborhoods are much less likely to be obese or have diabetes than people who stay behind.
Here's an explanation of the research, published in this week's New England Journal of Medicine. But it's not just living in and interacting with a different environment that matters: Social networks exert a powerful influence on obesity trends as well. The people close to you can can affect your weight, for better or worse.
A 2007 study (also in the New England Journal of Medicine) considered the idea that obesity was a "social contagion" — that if a person's friends become obese, that person is more likely to become obese, as well.
The trend worked in the opposite direction as well — people with friends who slimmed down were more likely to drop the poundage, too — but people were gaining more than losing, turning the situation into an "epidemic" of sorts.
Keep in mind, distance didn't matter. Friends could influence a person from hundreds of miles away, and plain old neighbors didn't seem to make much difference at all. Friends had a much stronger effect than family members.
However, it's possible that moving to a healthier neighborhood would result in adding new, thinner, fitter people to your social network in the process — thus reducing that risk of obesity.
And the more healthy friends one has, the better. A 2010 study in the journal PLoS Computational Biology followed up, finding that the more obese friends a person has, the more likely that person is to become obese.
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