Despite reports that the obesity epidemic in the United States may have plateaued, researchers at Harvard University predict that if current trends continue, at least 42 percent of Americans will be overweight or obese by 2050.
CNN's The Chart reports:
This bleak forecast, which appears in a study published this week in the journal PLoS Computational Biology, is based on the social networks research of one of [Alison] Hill's co-authors, Dr. Nicholas Christakis, M.D., a professor of medical sociology at Harvard Medical School, in Boston.
In a 2007 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, Christakis and a colleague suggested that obesity can spread through social networks, much like the flu. In the new study, the researchers took this theory a step further and used the "infectious disease" model of obesity to predict future trends.
Obesity rates have a tendency to snowball, they found, because a person's likelihood of becoming obese increases with each additional obese family member, friend, or acquaintance he or she has. What's more, obese people appear to have a stronger influence on their friends and family now than they did in 1971, when the earliest data used in the study was collected.
Photo by Tony Alter