Sizeism! Attack!


Wait until some of the fat-acceptance people find out about this.

Here was a typical response, back in 2007, to the New England Journal of Medicine paper by Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler, which applied network theory to the spread of obesity:

[The] media, in parroting the study’s claims to have documented the “social contagion” of obesity, are fueling the war on fat people by uncritically reporting that “obesity” is contagious. What can we expect next? Quarantine? Apartheid?


What the Christakis-Fowler research actually shows is the social contagion of fat hatred, especially in regard to the way it’s being disseminated and reported.


[We] see this study being used to justify more intrusive public health programs and actions. More fat children being removed from their homes to “save” them from their allegedly fattening parents…More shunning of fat kids and adults, more job and academic and social discrimination.


The first reports of this study indicating “obesity is contagious” (reports assuming, of course, that “obesity” is a terrible thing) brought chilling visions of quarantine, apartheid, and even lynching to some minds. Including mine.

Now there’s a new paper, co-written by Christakis and just published in PLoS Computational Biology, which develops a model for the spread of obesity on social networks. Towards the end the authors briefly discuss the likely usefulness of some hypothetical public-health interventions:

If the spatial correlations [between infected and susceptible individuals] were fixed to be a certain value (for example obese people cluster together due to selection bias in friendships or confounding factors), then this would actually serve to slow infection. Since we do not observe contagion of losing weight, it does not seem like it would be beneficial to have an intervention which broke up obese clusters…[We] can see that the fraction infected decreases with , the correlation of susceptible and infected people. If an intervention actively reduced this number, by isolating or clustering infected people, this could reduce the prevalence…Our results actually suggest that clusters of obese people serve to slow the spread of obesity by reducing social contagion to non-obese others outside of the clusters.


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