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Mirroring the weight issues

A study reveals that women emulate family and friends to shape their own image of an ideal body.

health and fitness Updated: May 16, 2011 03:21 IST

Eating and then not exercising can be a lifestyle disaster. These habits when shared among friends and family make obesity
contagious — reveals a study.

The study conducted by Arizona State University (ASU) was published online in the American Journal of Public Health Researchers last week.

The researches interviewed 101 women and 812 of their closest friends and family members to find three possible routes that spread obesity.

The team arrived at plausible causes of obesity transmission by answering these questions: Do women decide on ‘acceptable body size’ via friends and change their diet to get it? Is there pressure to conform to a certain size, despite disagreeing with their family’s expectations? Or do they decide on an ideal body size by observing their friends’ bodies, and then changing their eating andexercise habits as well?

Though no evidence to support the first two hypotheses is found, and there limited evidence to support the third; the research suggested other factors like eating and exercising together may be significant in causing friends to gain and lose weight together. “If we figure out why obesity spreads among friends, it can tell us where to focus resources in curbing obesity rates,” said lead author Daniel J. Hruschka, a cultural anthropologist. “Is it more effective to change people’s image of ideal body size, in hopes that they will change their behaviours; or directly target socially shared behaviours that can contribute to weight gain or loss.”

A 2007 study published in The New England Journal of Medicine found that both obesity and thinness were socially contagious and influenced the social network’s body weight: if one person is obese, odds of their friends becoming obese increases by 50 percent. The ASU study also revealed that when asked to choose between obesity or a range of 12 socially disapproved conditions like alcoholism or herpes, many women chose a debilitating condition over being fat — 25 percent chose severe depression, while 15 percent preferred total blindness. “This gives us important clues about the best ways to tackle obesity as a public health issue,” said study’s co-author Alexandra Brewis.

Steps to prevent you from piling kilos

Here are some simple rules to ensure that your friends don’t make you fat. “If you set some simple rules and stick to it, it’s not that
difficult to control yourself when your with friends,” says nutritionist Dr Ishi Khosla.

When going out, avoid cocktails and stick to clear drinks like wine, or vodka, to avoid the sugar loaded mixers.

When eating out, order small size portions. This way you can order more without overeating.

Don’t let your friends serve you. Do it yourself. This way you have full control over the portions you eat.

Treat healthier dishes as indulgence. For dessert skip the chocolate cake and have a fruit platter.

Plan afternoon meetings with friends. No one overeats or over orders.

-With inputs by HTC