Is obesity contagious? Social networks vs. environmental factors in the obesity epidemic

J Health Econ. 2008 Sep;27(5):1382-7. doi: 10.1016/j.jhealeco.2008.04.005. Epub 2008 May 9.


This note's aim is to investigate the sensitivity of Christakis and Fowler's claim [Christakis, N., Fowler, J., 2007. The spread of obesity in a large social network over 32 years. The New England Journal of Medicine 357, 370-379] that obesity has spread through social networks. It is well known in the economics literature that failure to include contextual effects can lead to spurious inference on "social network effects." We replicate the NEJM results using their specification and a complementary dataset. We find that point estimates of the "social network effect" are reduced and become statistically indistinguishable from zero once standard econometric techniques are implemented. We further note the presence of estimation bias resulting from use of an incorrectly specified dynamic model.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior* / psychology
  • Attitude to Health*
  • Bias
  • Causality
  • Environment*
  • Female
  • Friends*
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Models, Econometric
  • Obesity / economics
  • Obesity / epidemiology*
  • Obesity / psychology
  • Peer Group
  • Research
  • Social Behavior*
  • Social Support*
  • Sociology, Medical / economics*
  • United States / epidemiology