Go Away, You’re Making Me Fat

Or maybe not. New doubts on a study of obesity and friends

Recent news reports on research asserting that obesity is contagious had a lot of us taking a close look at our circles of friends. Harvard’s Nicholas Christakis and UC San Diego’s James Fowler first reported in the New England Journal of Medicine their finding that our ideas of acceptable body and portion size are affected by how big our friends are and how much they eat. They said America’s obesity epidemic is, well, literally an epidemic, spreading like flu from one person to the next.

Now, critics of their work are saying: not so fast. In a story in the New York Times, fellow social scientists say the statistical model used to extrapolate the virus theory was flawed, that the differences in weight gains the original researchers cited weren’t statistically significant, and that it’s impossible to distinguish among a number of reasons why friends tend to have similar levels of body weight.

That’s good news, because it means you can still dare to be friends with fat people. And God knows, now that airlines don’t want them on board and lawmakers want to tax them, fat people need more friends.