Stay away from me. I’m contagious.

At least that’s what a new study has concluded.

You see, I’m a bit overweight. As Dewey Oxberger said in the 1981 movie, Stripes, “My doctor says I swallow a lot of aggression, along with a lot of pizzas and cheeseburgers.”

I’ve struggled with my weight since I was a child. When it came time for new school clothes it was always, boys husky. As a freshman at St. Joseph High School in Lowell, I was 5 feet, 3 inches and weighed 185 pounds. And now, 38 years later, I’m still battling the bulge. I’m not unhealthy by any stretch of the imagination. I’m a large man, but I’m not obese. I don’t need a winch to get me in and out of the car, and I still buckle my seat belt with ease.

My doctor says I need to lose 20 pounds. That’s all. It’s the same 20 pounds he’s been telling me to lose for the last six or seven years.

My wife and I love to walk, so chalk one up in the win column. I like to tease my wife. If we walk, say, three miles, I’ll tell people that my wife and I walked six miles. Do the math. If I walk three miles and she walks three miles, how many miles is that? Six, right?

Anyway, back to the study, which appeared last week in the New England Journal of Medicine. Researchers, funded by our hard-earned tax dollars by the way, found that if I’m fat, then my friends and family will be fat, too. And get this, they can catch the fat bug from hundreds of miles away. They say that the fat virus spreads from room to room, town to town and state to state through social networks. If a close friend gains weight, there is a greater likelihood that their friends will start packing on the pounds.

The study is invalid in a number of ways, and I don’t have the time or space to go into all of it. It doesn’t consider socioeconomics and the fact that good, healthy food costs more than junk. For instance, I can get a grilled chicken salad for about six bucks. Or I can hit the 99-cent menu at the drive-through, pick up a couple of bacon cheeseburgers, fries and a shake for under $5. And let’s be honest here, which meal do you think I’m going to enjoy more?

The premise of this ludicrous study is that if we are fat, we are sending a subliminal message to our friends that it’s OK to be fat. How come that doesn’t work when I tell my friends it’s OK to be smart, or politically active, or ridiculously generous with their money?

“These findings reinforce the idea that obesity is not just an individual problem but a collective problem,” said Dr. Nicholas Christakis, a professor at Harvard Medical School in Boston. “What appears to be happening is that people come to think it’s OK to be bigger since those around them are bigger, and this sensibility spreads.”

I have friends whom I have known for years. One was overweight as a child and teenager and later slimmed down. In recent years he has put most of the weight back on. He looks OK. I have friends who have been stick-thin their whole lives. I have friends who are average.

The folks at my church come in all body shapes and sizes. Almost every time we get together socially, there is food involved. Lots of it. Why then, don’t we all look like John Goodman and Roseanne Barr? And speaking of television stars, explain how Camryn Manheim and Lara Flynn Boyle both starred in The Practice, for six years and were never once mistaken for each other.

This is idiocy and lunacy. And again, let me remind you who paid for this study. Got a mirror? I’m not making my friends fat, and they’re not making me thin. Want to know why people are fat? Because they, er, I mean, we, um, I mean I, eat too much. Diane has to pull the pot roast away from me so I don’t eat it all in one sitting. When we go out to eat, she has to remind me that there are such things as “doggie bags.”

The whole thing has me flummoxed. If I try to hang out with thin people in an effort to lose weight, they won’t want to hang out with me for fear that they’ll gain weight. Besides, hanging out with thin people will only make me look that much fatter. Better to find some morbidly obese friends who will make me look svelte by comparison. But wait. Will they rub off on me? Why not quarantine us all if we’re so contagious?

One word sums up my opinion of this tax-payer funded study: baloney.

That reminds me, I wonder if we have any cold cuts in the fridge.

Dennis Shaughnessey’s e-mail is