So the latest report from the Framingham Heart Study tells us that obesity travels in social networks. You are likely to be overweight if your friends are, and vice versa. Gina Kolata has a great account of the study in today’s New York Times, but the paper itself is worth reading for its gorgeous diagram of this particular social network. It is also noteworthy for its ability to expand your otherwise boring vocabulary. Did you know that homophily is the tendency for people to choose relationships with people who have similar attributes, and alter is a person connected to the ego who may influence the behavior of the ego? Not me. Never mind. Go see what The Onion has to say about this.
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The Framingham Heart Study has just released new results suggesting that people who drink one or more 12-ounce sodas a day have a greater chance of developing “multiple metabolic risk factors” such as obesity, high blood pressure (hypertension), high blood sugar (diabetes), or low HDL-cholesterol (the good kind). The story made headlines in USA Today and other publications because diet sodas–which have no calories–were associated with the same level of risk as that of sodas made with corn sweeteners. As might be expected, soda industry officials find this result ridiculous but I think it makes sense if you think of sodas–diet and not–as an indicator of poor dietary habits. Plenty of evidence suggests that many (although certainly not all) people who habitually drink sodas of any kind consume more calories, have worse diets, and are more likely to be overweight than people who do not. For some individuals, using artificial sweeteners helps maintain weight. But on a population basis, the huge increase in use of artificial sweeteners since the early 1980s has occurred precisely in parallel with rising rates of obesity. So lots of people must be making up for the calories they save in diet sodas by eating other junk foods. When it comes to food, I don’t care for anything artificial so I try to avoid artificial sweeteners as much as I can. And you?
I participated in a panel with Charlie Rose last night on the science of obesity. With five people around the table, it was hard to get a word in edgewise, but I did the best I could (take a look and judge for yourself). The central issue for the conversation was whether obesity is the result of genes or the environment. If it’s genes, let’s find a drug and solve the problem. If it’s environment, things get much more complicated because no drug can fix a society that makes food available everywhere, at rock bottom cost, in enormous portions. Genes matter, of course; not everyone who overeats gains weight. But rates of overweight started to zoom up just in the past 25 years or so, too recently for genetics to have changed. While the science types are working hard to find a magic–and highly profitable–bullet, people need to find ways to handle a food environment that encourages overeating. I’m in favor of policies to make it easier to eat more healthfully, ranging from restrictions on marketing junk food to children to elimination of farm subsidies. I’m sure you can think of more. I’m collecting a list. Send suggestions.
In the meantime, I have a bit more to say about these issues at Eating Liberally.