Obese are less unhappy in places with people like them

This article originally appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle on June 11, 2014.

Want to be happier? One solution may be to live in a place where most people are as fit – or as fat – as you are.

A survey of more than 1.3 million Americans has revealed that being overweight made them less likely to feel “very satisfied” with their lives. That stands to reason, but here’s the wrinkle: If you are dissatisfied with life because of excess weight, you are likely to feel less so if the people living around you are overweight, too.

“The most interesting finding for us was that, in U.S. counties where obesity is particularly prevalent, being obese has very little negative effect on one’s life satisfaction,” study co-author Philip M. Pendergast said in a statement. “In addition, we found that being ‘normal weight’ has little benefit in counties where obesity is especially common. This illustrates the importance of looking like the people around you when it comes to satisfaction with life.”

To determine this, researchers from the University of Colorado-Boulder chose subjects of varying weights living in counties across the country and asked them to rank their overall satisfaction. Then they measured the answers against the counties’ obesity rates and published the results in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior.

In the Bay Area, the people around you aren’t likely to tip the scales. National 2013 health metrics showed San Francisco has the country’s lowest obesity rate for men (18.3 percent), and the eighth lowest for women (20.9 percent). As The Chronicle has reported, other Bay Area counties also have low obesity rates and high life expectancies.