Obesity Epidemic?

Today on Slate there is a nice little GIF (that originally appeared on The Atlantic) that shows how obesity rates have changed over time by state. Slate seems to suggest that the geographic progression of obesity rates might indicate some sort of social contagion. But, ss many others (and here) before me have pointed out, we have to be very careful when trying to draw inferences about social contagion. If we take a look at a map of household income by state, we see that there is a lot of overlap between the poorest states and those with the highest obesity rates.

Household Income

There are lot's of potential causal connections here. For example, income might affect the types of stores and restaurants available, which in turn affects obesity rates. For a more careful look at some data on the social contagion of obesity, have a look at our paper that examines obesity rates, screen time, and social networks in adolescents.


As a side note, it's interesting to compare the map of the "obesity epidemic" to a map of something we know spreads through person to person contagion, like the swine flu (image from the New York Times).


Unlike the obesity epidemic, swine flu jumps all over the place, which obviously has to do with air travel.