Oprah, how obesity spreads, and the environment

Oprah Winfrey

How obesity spreads

You probably heard about a 2007 New England Journal of Medicine study, The Spread of Obesity in a Large Social Network Over 32 Years, implying that

Obesity can spread from person to person, much like a virus, according to researchers. When one person gains weight, close friends tend to gain weight too

as the New York Times stated in, Obesity spreads to friends, study concludes. It continued:

people were most likely to become obese when a friend became obese. That increased one’s chances of becoming obese by 57 percent.

There was no effect when a neighbor gained or lost weight, however, and family members had less of an influence than friends. It did not even matter if the friend was hundreds of miles away – the influence remained. And the greatest influence of all was between mutual close friends. There, if one became obese, the other had a 171 percent increased chance of becoming obese too.

The same effect seemed to occur for weight loss, the investigators say, but since most people were gaining, not losing, over the 32 years, the result was an obesity epidemic.

The finding was confirmed and augmented in a 2011 American Journal of Public Health study, Shared Norms and Their Explanation for the Social Clustering of Obesity, which looked to how the obesity clustered and spread. Did it spread through exposure to behaviors, appearances, talking, or what?

Environmental behavior

Billions of people behave in ways that decrease Earth’s ability to sustain life and human society—behavior that some part of them knows will hurt themselves, family members, and their communities. Though don’t change their behavior.

I’ve meant to write for years on the similarity, from a leadership perspective looking at the underlying emotions, between obesity and polluting. I bet polluting behavior spread like an epidemic too.

I believe people want to change their polluting behavior. I’m working on helping them—leading them, following my model of leadership: helping people to what they want to but haven’t figured out how.

Can we motivate environmental behavior and outcomes to spread like obesity does? Can we increase chances of someone buying less garbage or cooking at home by 57 percent among friends or 171 percent between mutual close friends?

My strategy

Since I barely know anyone relative to about 8 billion, I don’t expect my behavior to cause an epidemic of preserving the environment in the face of mainstream society promoting the opposite.

I developed a strategy for my podcast to lead well-known people. I hope to enlist Oprah Winfrey, for example, and LeBron James, Serena Williams, Elon Musk, and other people with many followers.

The 2007 and 2011 studies came to mind because someone recently mentioned the results—Nir Eyal, actually, author of Indistractable, which I’m reading, and the bestseller Hooked before that, who agreed to be a guest on my podcast—and got me thinking about them.

My question

If a friend’s obesity leads a person to become obese, what if someone considers Oprah a friend and Oprah becomes obese? Does she affect hundreds of millions who might consider her a friend? She’s charismatic and empathetic. I’m only partly curious if data exists that could answer the question.

We know she influences people to buy books, watch her shows, and so on intentionally. I’m inclined to believe she spreads obesity too.

I stopped doing research after finishing my PhD, so I’m not interested in finding out to publish results, but I want to use the effect if it works, which means understanding how.

Could Oprah and other renowned people acting environmentally lead hundreds of millions or billions of others to follow?

I believe so. These studies seem to support my strategy to influence influencers to lead communities to change.

We’ll see.

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