For a long time, people have thought of obesity as simply being a medical issue: people ate more than they expended, and gained weight.

A lot of research has gone into the physical and physiological aspects of weight loss; looking for "the fat gene", promoting low fat or low carb diets, and also looking at how people could rebalance their desires for high-fat foods.

New research from the University of Warwick suggests that people become obese if the people around them are obese. Like that old saying, "working hard to keep up with the Joneses" — this research offers the possibility that we try to "keep up with the Joneses" in our incomes, lifestyles — and our weight.

Women, in particular, tend to be very conscious of their weight when they compare themselves to other women of the same age. Weight is a very sensitive subject that impacts how a person feels, looks, and interacts with their environment. This research indicates that people are highly influenced by the weight of others around them, though this influence happens outside conscience awareness.

The researchers suggest that people find it easier to be fat in a society that is fat — and since obesity is rising in most countries, it seems easier to be fat, compared to ever before.

Results of this study will be presented at the NBER Summer Institute on Health Economics (2008).

What do you think? Do you feel better about your weight when comparing yourself to those around you?