Fat Chance: New Study Says We Should Ditch Portlier Pals

Research shows that being around overweight people might make you eat more

Okay, simmer down: This new study published in the Journal of Consumer Research doesn't quite say you have to break up with all of your fat friends. But wow, does it come darn close. 

"Why do people often think back on a pleasant evening with friends and realize that they ate more and worse food than they wish they had?" ask authors Margaret C. Campbell (Leeds School of Business) and Gina S. Mohr (University of Colorado, Boulder). Because some of your friends might be overweight. And "merely being exposed to someone overweight can result in increased food consumption." Translation: Hanging out with portlier people makes you want to stuff your face so you can be fat just like them. 

For starters: I don't know who hangs out with Campbell and Mohr, but I have friends of all shapes and sizes -- many of whom are both larger and healthier than me. We're talking about marathon runners and professional dancers. So no, being in their presence doesn't decrease my commitment to my own health goals. It usually reminds me that I'm kind of a lazybones.

Next, what's up with talking about overweight people like they're contagious? The study is peppered with phrases like "exposure to an overweight person" and "influence of negative social group member." You know how wearing pink nail polish won't make your son gay? Eating lunch with an overweight person won't make you fat either. 

Campbell and Mohr do propose one interesting theory: "If a consumer compares herself to someone overweight, she may feel that it is okay to eat more cookies" than when she compares herself to someone skinny. Now I don't like this idea that we should all be comparing ourselves all the time (aren't these people supposed to be your friends?). But another way to read this is that when we hang out with friends who don't remind us of how we'll never be thin enough, we let ourselves off that hook and just enjoy hanging out and eating good food.

Of course, then the researchers go on to explain that the best way to avoid the dangerous cookie eating associated with exposure to fatties is to constantly remind yourself of your "health goal." So next time you go to dinner with your fat friend, make sure to tape a picture of Gwyneth Paltrow on her shirt. That way whenever her fatness starts making you hungry, you can keep your eyes on the prize. Side note: This will probably be the last time you go to dinner with that friend. But don't drop your guard -- the paper cites other research showing that your odds of being obese increase significantly if your spouse, best friend or sister is obese, even if that person lives in another state. And Mohr and Campbell conclude by nothing that while folks interested in fighting fat bias are pushing to get more fat people on television, "the current research could have unintended consequences." You know, like "inadvertently causing consumers to eat more indulgent food." The horror.

Here's the only silver lining I can find in this whole business: Since the study is published in the JCR, advertisers everywhere will see it. Which could mean more work for "plus-sized" models -- at least in food commercials? 

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