HealthDay News — Body mass index (BMI) and odds of overweight and/or obesity are increased with exposure to communities with higher rates of obesity, according to a study published online in JAMA Pediatrics.

Ashlesha Datar, PhD, from the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, and Nancy Nicosia, PhD, from RAND Corporation in Boston, examined whether exposure to communities with higher rates of obesity is associated with increased BMI in individuals and with their risk of being overweight or obese.

Data were obtained from the Military Teenagers’ Environments, Exercise, and Nutrition study for families from 38 military installations around the United States. Participants included one parent and one 12- or 13-year-old child from 1519 families.

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The researchers found that a 1-percentage-point higher county obesity rate was correlated with higher BMI (difference, 0.08) and increased odds of obesity (adjusted odds ratio, 1.05) in parents; in children, there was an increased BMI z score (0.01) and elevated odds of overweight or obesity (adjusted odds ratio, 1.04).

Stronger correlations were seen for families with more time at installation and off-installation residence. Even after the researchers controlled for shared built environments, the correlations persisted.

“There was no evidence to support self-selection or shared built environments as possible explanations, which suggests the presence of social contagion in obesity,” the authors write.

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Datar A, Nicosia N. Association of exposure to communities with higher ratios of obesity with increased body mass index and risk of overweight and obesity among parents and children [published online January 22, 2018]. JAMA Pediatr. doi: 10.1001/jamapediatrics.2017.4882