September 11, 2008 by Daisy Rose
People are influenced by the weight of those around them without being aware of it, leading to a ‘spiral of obesity’, according to University of Warwick researchers.
They say whether someone is satisfied with their own weight depends on how they compare themselves to those around them and people with a degree or high education or qualification are particularly hard on themselves.
Their study found that for women whether they are happy with their own weight depended crucially upon not just their own absolute body mass index but also upon their body mass index relative to other women of exactly the same age in their country.
Men do not worry about being overweight as long as plenty of men around them were also overweight.
Professor Andrew Oswald at the University of Warwick, one of the researchers, said: “Consumption of calories has gone up but that does not tell us why people are eating more.
“Some have argued that obesity has been produced by cheaper food, but if fatness is a response to greater purchasing power, why do we routinely observe that rich people are thinner than poor people?
“People are influenced by relative comparisons, and norms have changed and are still changing.
“A lot of research into obesity, which has emphasized sedentary lifestyles or human biology or fast-food, has missed the key point. Rising obesity needs to be thought of as a sociological phenomenon not a physiological one. People are influenced by relative comparisons, and norms have changed and are still changing.”
Nearly half of European women feel overweight compared to less than a third of men, the study of 27,000 Europeans found.
The findings will be presented at the National Bureau of Economic Research conference in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
By Rebecca Smith