A few years ago, a couple of studies out of Harvard (see here and here for the abstracts) received a lot of attention when the authors concluded that “obesity appears to spread through social ties.” Newspapers wrote headlines stating that “obesity is contagious among friends.” Is this hyperbole? Is obesity contagious?
Is Obesity Contagious? Evidence From Pets
Now, there appears to be a growing appreciation for the risks that man’s best friend might be subjected to as the nation grows more and more overweight. In this article in the NYT, a recent study by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention is cited claiming that approximately half of all dogs and cats in American homes are overweight or obese. That’s almost 85 million pets!
And, perhaps not surprisingly, being overweight or obese has negative (and costly) health consequences for pets as well as for people. As the NYT article states, according to a pet insurance company called Petplan USA, the average cost of veterinary care for a diabetic dog or cat in 2011 was more than $900 and treatment for arthritis and cruciate ligament tears, which can be caused by the strain of an overweight frame that weakens joints, cost pet owners an average of $2,000. Moreover, pet insurance claims have been increasing in recent years. In 2011, pet insurance claims for heart disease, diabetes, and arthritis increased by 32, 253, and 348 percent, respectively.
So, perhaps it’s not surprising that poor health behaviors are costly for pets as they are for people – and that we tend to behave in similar ways as the people with whom we associate. To me, this not only drives home the importance of practicing healthy behaviors, but doing so with your friends and family. Eat healthy meals together, walk together, live long happy lives together.