Love Handles

Sunday, July 29, 2007

IT USED TO be that you could just blame your expanding gut on your parents ("Why the bad genes, Ma?"). But now, thanks to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, you might be able to blame it on your best friend, too.

Researchers found that people were 57 percent more likely to become obese if a friend does first. That number shoots up to 171 percent if a close friend gains the pounds -- and that seems to apply even if the friends are hundreds of miles apart. Obesity, it appears, spreads from person to person like a disease.

The study has a lot to say about how and why America has gotten fatter -- and how the country can fight what might be fairly described as an epidemic of expanding waistlines. Approaches aimed at changing attitudes en masse and stressing how individuals' choices affect others might be effective.

The danger in this, of course, is that Americans will use the study's conclusions as another way to escape blame for overeating and underexercising. The bottom line on obesity remains: People must be responsible to themselves -- and, now, it appears, to others around them -- to eat healthy and exercise. After all, friends don't let friends eat Oreos.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company