Causes of Obesity


Cause of Obesity: Although some obesity is caused by underlying disorders, the main cause is probably lifestyle. The problem has two basic issues: too much food, too little activity. High calorie diets from processed foods and fats make it easy to add weight. Sedentary lifestyles without adequate exercise make it hard to take weight off.

Cause details for Obesity: In scientific terms, obesity occurs when a person consumes more calories than he or she burns. What causes this imbalance between calories in and calories out may differ from one person to another. Genetic, environmental, psychological, and other factors may all play a part.

Genetic factors

Obesity tends to run in families, suggesting a genetic cause. Yet families also share diet and lifestyle habits that may contribute to obesity. Separating these from genetic factors is often difficult. Even so, science shows that heredity is linked to obesity.

In one study, adults who were adopted as children were found to have weights closer to their biological parents than to their adoptive parents. In this case, the person's genetic makeup had more influence on the development of obesity than the environment in the adoptive family home.

Environmental factors

Genes do not destine people to a lifetime of obesity, however. Environment also strongly influences obesity. This includes lifestyle behaviors such as what a person eats and his or her level of physical activity. Americans tend to eat high-fat foods, and put taste and convenience ahead of nutrition. Also, most Americans do not get enough physical activity.

Although you cannot change your genetic makeup, you can change your eating habits and levels of activity. Try these techniques that have helped some people lose weight and keep it off:

  • Learn how to choose more nutritious meals that are lower in fat.
  • Learn to recognize and control environmental cues (like inviting smells) that make you want to eat when you're not hungry.
  • Become more physically active.
  • Keep records of your food intake and physical activity.

Psychological factors

Psychological factors may also influence eating habits. Many people eat in response to negative emotions such as boredom, sadness, or anger.

Most overweight people have no more psychological problems than people of average weight. Still, up to 10 percent of people who are mildly obese and try to lose weight on their own or through commercial weight loss programs have binge eating disorder. This disorder is even more common in people who are severely obese.

During a binge eating episode, people eat large amounts of food and feel that they cannot control how much they are eating. Those with the most severe binge eating problems are also likely to have symptoms of depression and low self-esteem. These people may have more difficulty losing weight and keeping it off than people without binge eating problems.

If you are upset by binge eating behavior and think you might have binge eating disorder, seek help from a health professional such as a psychiatrist, psychologist, or clinical social worker. 1

Obesity often is viewed as the result of a lack of willpower, weakness, or a lifestyle "choice"--the choice to overeat and underexercise. The belief that persons choose to be obese adds to the hesitation of health professionals and patients to accept the use of long-term appetite-suppressant medication treatment to manage obesity. Obesity, however, is more appropriately considered a chronic disease than a lifestyle choice2

The main causes of being overweight or obese are eating too much and/or not being active enough. If you eat more calories than your body burns up, the extra calories are stored as fat. Everyone has some stored fat. Too much fat results in being overweight or obese. Other factors that may affect your weight include your genes (obesity tends to run in families), your metabolism (how your body processes food), your racial/ethnic group, and your age. Sometimes an illness or medicine can contribute to weight gain. Researchers are studying the causes of obesity to learn more about how to prevent and reverse it.3

Underlying condition causes of Obesity: The list of possible underlying conditions (see also Misdiagnosis of underlying causes of Obesity) mentioned in various sources as possible causes of Obesity includes:

Obesity as a complication: Other conditions that might have Obesity as a complication might be potential underlying causes of Obesity. The list of conditions listing Obesity as a complication in our database includes:

Obesity as a symptom: Conditions listing Obesity as a symptom may also be potential underlying causes of Obesity. The list of conditions listing Obesity as a symptom in our database includes:

Causes of Obesity: medical news summaries: The following medical news items are relevant to causes of Obesity:

Related information for causes of Obesity: Further relevant information on causes of Obesity may be found in the risk factors for Obesity and underlying causes of Obesity.

1. excerpt from Understanding Adult Obesity: NIDDK
2. excerpt from Prescription Medications for the Treatment of Obesity: NIDDK
3. excerpt from Obesity: NWHIC

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