US Academic says Scottish Government needs to use social networks to tackle obesity

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By Oliver Farrimond

A RENOWNED American academic has told the Scottish Government to tackle Scotland’s obesity academic by using social networks.

Claiming that fatness is infectious, leading social scientist Dr Nicholas Christakis attacked plans by the SNP administration to help Scotland shed the pounds by measures such as standardizing food portions in restaurants.

Dr Christakis said: “I don’t know if tackling obesity that way will succeed.

“Our study suggests obesity shouldn’t be looked at in simple terms of eating more or less, the reasons why have to be examined.

“If the Scottish Government is keen to tackle obesity it should tackle it by group interventions.

“Just as you are more likely to gain weight if someone close to you puts on a few pounds, so you’re more likely to lose it if they lose weight.”

The Harvard academic’s ideas are outlined in his new book Connected, and he spoke about Scotland’s obesity epidemic during a visit to Britain.

He added: “We did a study of more than 12,000 people and found that the chances of becoming obese increased by 57 per cent if a close friend was obese.

“It seems that obesity appears to spread through social ties, and that has implications for clinical and public health.

“Instead of spending ?10 per obese patient we should look towards spending ?100 on ten patients in a group setting.”

Research by health experts has shown that one in five Scots children are clinically obese, and that obesity causes roughly 3,400 deaths in Scotland a year.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said that obesity treatment through social networks was “one available option”.

A spokesperson said: “We are committed to tackling Scotland’s obesity problem head-on by working across all areas of Government to ensure that policies are directed at supporting people to achieve and then maintain a healthy weight.

“Obesity is not simply a health issue, nor can we expect individuals to change behaviour entirely on their own.

“The solution lies in changing our entire environment from one that promotes weight gain to one that supports healthy choices.

“Decisions about treatment options are a matter to be decided between individual patients and their doctors, and group support is one available option.”

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