A fascinating recent study has found that obesity “can spread from one person to another like the flu or a fad:”
The researchers found that when one spouse became obese, the other was 37 percent more likely to do so in the next two to four years, compared to other couples. If a man became obese, his brother’s risk rose by 40 percent. The risk rose even more sharply among friends — between 57 and 171 percent, depending on whether they considered each other mutual friends.
The study reminded me of the troubled place of metaphor in contemporary reasoning. I recall reading many libertarians who dismissed the idea of an obesity “epidemic”–who felt this designation unduly alarmist and politically manipulative. An “epidemic” unfortunately calls to mind quarantines, panic, and an uncontrollable disease vector. But the ideas of “contagiousness” and “communicability” provide useful frames for thinking here, like Dawkin’s translation of natural genetics into cultural memetics. (For the legal implications, check out Balkin or Cotter.)