The Many Causes of Obesity

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There is a big difference between being a bit overweight and being obese. Obesity is "an over-accumulation of fat that interferes with the function of our bodies." Obesity is defined as having excessive fat in body tissues. Obesity increases the risk for many health conditions, including diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute defines being overweight as having a body mass index (BMI) of 25 to 29.9 and obese as having a BMI of 30 or greater.

Obesity can be caused by many different factors. The most significant are:

Genetics or Heredity

Genetics are what your forefathers (and mothers) bequeathed to you in the form of your genes. There is a perception that very obese people are lazy and greedy. Not all obese people have reached that state because they eat everything in sight. If both of a person's parents were heavy, that person has a 70% probability that he or she will also be heavy. That percentage drops to 40-50% if only one parent was thin.


Metabolism is the amount of energy (calories) your body burns to maintain itself. Metabolism is the process in which nutrients are acquired, transported, used and disposed of by the body.

Every person is unique and they all have their own unique metabolism. The terms "slow metabolism" and "fast metabolism" refer to how easily our bodies convert food into fuel (energy) and nutrients. A person's metabolism is affected by genetics, hormone levels, thyroid conditions, food allergies, amount of body fat, age and insulin levels. Since there are so many factors that contribute to a person's metabolism, it is difficult to specify and special "diet" or "metabolic diet" for a specific person. An entire medical and psychological history would have to be determined.


A person's mental state can contribute to a person's obesity. But the person's state of mind is usually caused because he/she is obese, not the obesity being caused by the person's state of mind.


Everywhere around us there are ads, pictures, and other people who urge us to eat more. Almost all social activity is based on food and drink. Dinners, luncheons and barbecues.

Even some religions have a type of food that should or should not be eaten at certain times. All of these little nudges to eat contribute to the obesity in our population.

Sedentary Lifestyle

A sedentary lifestyle is one of the major causes of obesity. Physical activity is one of the best ways to lose those pounds.


Some prescriptions, especially antidepressants, have been shown to increase appetite, and therefore increase obesity.


Taking in more calories than our bodies need is the most significant factor in obesity. The combination of overeating and under-activity can be the death knell to successful weight loss.

Most obese people have reached that state through multiple causes. In fact, all obese people have at least two or three of the contributing factors. That is why it is so difficult for some people to lose weight. If there is an underlying medical condition, all the diets in the world may not be enough.

Now that you've seen all the causes of being overweight, how can you overcome them?

Start simple. In weight loss, the basics are quite simple: Eat protein from the best sources you can find; vegetables in mostly unlimited amounts; high-fiber, low-sugar fruit in moderation; and eat less of fats like butter, mayonnaise and the like.

Always check with a doctor and ask for advice before starting on a stringent diet and exercise program. It's best to unearth any medical problems before doing something that will make them worse.

First, know yourself. Keep a food diary that records not only what you eat, but why you are eating and your mood at the time you are eating.

Second, be committed. Not to your spouse, your children, or your friends, but to yourself. Do it for YOU.

Third, cut down on portion sizes and reduce your fat intake. Healthy food choices are extremely important for weight loss and for health.

Fourth, increase your activity. Go for walks, go swimming or find another physical activity that suits you. My stepson lost 96 pounds by increasing his exercise level. He didn't change his eating habits at all!

Diets came into being to help people to structure their eating habits. Very stringent diets are very hard to follow and a lot of people don't have the self discipline to follow through. I believe that eating healthy foods - lean meats, vegetables and fruits - in moderate portions will be easier for most people to follow. Having some flexibility will help combat those feelings of deprivation.

Changing the eating habits of a lifetime is difficult. Start with one thing such as reducing portion sizes, and keep at it until it becomes a habit. It is said that it takes 21 days to form a habit. Don't try to take on too much at a time. Baby-step your way to healthy weight loss and better health. Persistence and patience wins the day.