The same effect seemed to occur for weight loss, the investigators say, butsince most people were gaining, not losing, over the 32 years, the result was anobesity epidemic.Dr. Nicholas Christakis, a physician and professor of medical sociology atHarvard Medical School and a principal investigator in the new study, says oneexplanation is that friends affect each others' perception of fatness. When a closefriend becomes obese, obesity may not look so bad."You change your idea of what is an acceptable body type by looking at thepeople around you," Christakis said. The investigators say their findings can helpexplain why Americans became fatter in recent years: Persons who becameobese were likely to drag some friends with them.Their analysis was unique, Christakis said, because it moved beyond a simpleanalysis of one person and his or her social contacts, and instead examined anentire social network at once, looking at how a friend's friends' friends, or aspouse's siblings' friends, could have an influence on a person's weight. Theeffects, Christakis said, "highlight the importance of a spreading process, a kindof social contagion, that spreads through the network."Rules of Life in the NetworkAccording to Christakis and Fowler, there are a number of rules that affect allof us in our various networks.
Rule 1: We Shape Our Network
As humans we make and remake our social networks constantly. Think aboutyour Facebook network. New people are added, old people are dropped.People we’re not quite sure we want “that much” contact are “hidden.”Even with all our on-line “friends” our real network of those we are close withis quite small. Studies show that most Americans have just four close socialcontacts, with most having between two and six. Sadly, 12 percent of Americanslisted no one with whom they could discuss important matters or spend free time.At the other extreme, 5 percent of Americans had eight such people.
Rule 2: Our Network Shapes Us
The old adage to choose your friends wisely is true. A person who has nofriends has a very different life than one who has many. It has been known for some time that first-born children score a few points higher in intelligence thansecond-born children, who in turn score a bit higher than third-born children.