Journal of Community Health

, Volume 38, Issue 5, pp 834–837 | Cite as

Is Obesity Contagious by Way of Body Image? A Study on Japanese Female Students in the United States

  • Rinako BagrowiczEmail author
  • Chiho Watanabe
  • Masahiro Umezaki
Original Paper


Although it has been suggested that obesity is ‘contagious’ within the social network, direct cause of this spread of obesity remains unclear. This study hypothesized that Body Image (BI), the perception of one’s own body size, may play a role in this obesity spread, since a high prevalence of obesity could shift people’s perception of ‘what is normal’. Young Japanese females (n = 53) were interviewed within 1 month after moving to New York City, where the prevalence of obesity is substantially higher than that of their home country, Japan. Each participant was examined for her BI in terms of current body size (CBS) and ideal body size (IBS). They were interviewed again 2 months after the first examination. Between the two interviews, the participants’ CBS was decreased (having thinner self-image), while the IBS increased (having fatter ideal-image), leading to less dissatisfaction (smaller CBS–IBS) with their body size. These results suggest that one’s BI could change in a period as short as 2 months, possibly because of being surrounded by more obese people. The IBS change was positively associated with BMI change (increased by 0.4 ± 0.6 kg/m²), warranting further study on the role of BI in the spread of obesity.


Body Image Spread of obesity Immigrant Japanese women Perception 



This study was supported by The University of Tokyo. Rinako Bagrowicz was supported by the JSPS Institutional Program for Young Researcher Overseas Visits and the JSPS International Training Program.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Rinako Bagrowicz
    • 1
    Email author
  • Chiho Watanabe
    • 1
  • Masahiro Umezaki
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Human Ecology, Graduate School of MedicineThe University of TokyoTokyoJapan

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