Diet and Nutrition

What Causes Obesity?

What Causes Obesity?

Key Takeaways

  • Energy balance is achieved when the energy you take in equals the amount of energy you spend. 
  • Some people tend to use eating as a way of feeling better when stressed or dealing with other negative emotions such as anger, boredom, anxiety and sadness. 
  • You can gain weight as a side effect to some medicines like seizure medicines, antidepressants and corticosteroids. 

A person’s weight is decided by the balance between the amount of calories consumed and the amount of calories spent. So if you take more calories than your body can use, the excess calories will be stored as fat and you will add weight. On the other hand, if you take fewer calories than your body requires, the body will use the excess calories that are stored as fat and you are bound to lose weight. Therefore, consuming too many calories without exercising or participating in physical activities will increase the amount of fat you have because the calories that you are not burning or using as energy will turn to fat. This is the main cause of obesity and here are the causes of obesity in detail:

  • Unhealthy diet: Obesity is gradual and it takes a lot of time to develop. It often begins with adding just a few pounds before it finally spirals out of control. A poor diet and unhealthy lifestyle choices are some of the main causes. They are characterized by:
    • Eating too much fast or processed food that is usually high in fat and sugar
    • Taking too much alcohol leads to weight gain in most cases due to the large presence of calories in it
    • Drinking too many soft drinks and fruit juice that usually contain too much sugar
    • Emotional eating, which is when you eat to feel better when depressed or low on self-esteem
    • Making eating out a habit as most restaurant foods are high in fat and sugar and eating them all the time will increase your body weight
    • Eating more food than you need since too much of anything is dangerous and it does not matter what type of food you are taking in 
  • Lack of energy balance: Energy balance is achieved when the energy you take in equals the amount of energy you spend. The energy you take in is simply the amount of calories you consume on a daily basis while the energy you spend represents your daily activities and the energy your body uses. However, maintaining a healthy weight does not exactly need daily energy balance rather it is how you manage your body energy over time. If sitting for longer periods of time is part of your daily activities, you should find time to do regular workouts or other activities that involves body movements so as to keep the balance.
  • Psychological factors: Some people tend to use eating as a way of feeling better when stressed or dealing with other negative emotions such as anger, boredom, anxiety and sadness. This emotional eating can become a habit over time leading to weight gain and eventually obesity.
  • Genetics: The chances of developing obesity are higher when both or one of your parents are obese. Leptin deficiency is one of the genetic conditions that causes obesity. Leptin is a hormone that controls weight by sending signals to the brain to notify it that the body has had enough fats. Leptin deficiency is when the body does not produce enough leptin that can tell the brain that the body it has had enough. That means the brain has no control over your eating and it may lead to overeating and eventually obesity. This condition among others may be passed from the parents to the children. However, if the parents develop routines to control these weight issues in the children, like physical exercises, it may reduce their chances of being obese in the future.
  • Medications: You can gain weight as a side effect to some medicines like seizure medicines, antidepressants and corticosteroids. They can boost your appetite, increase the percentage of water in the body or decrease the rate at which the body burns calories. Whichever way, weight gain becomes a possibility. Some of the other medications that can lead to weight gain are:
    • Anticonvulsants or medications used for controlling seizures, which include carbamazepine (Equetro, Tegretol XR and Carbatrol) and valproate (Depakene and Depacon)
    • Some oral contraceptives
    • Some diabetic medications such as sulfonylurea, tiazolidinediones and insulin
    • Some antihistamines and high blood pressure medications may also trigger weight gain
  • Environmental causes: Sometimes the environment that we spend most of our time in may encourage obesity. These are some of the ways that this can happen:
    • Inadequate spaces for recreation - Some areas lack places of recreation such as sidewalks, parks, gyms and trails, making it hard for most people to be active physically.
    • Tight work schedules - People tend to spend long periods of time at their work places and they end up with little or no time at all to be physically active especially if their work involves sitting or being stationery.
    • Lack of access to good food - Some people don’t have access to healthy food because of a number of reasons. It may be because they cannot afford them or they are just out of reach due to unavoidable circumstances.
    • Huge food portions - Today over-sized food portions are readily available everywhere from restaurants, movie theaters, gas stations, supermarkets and even home. Most of these snacks or meals have been packed for one person, yet they can actually be enough for two or even three people. So when a person takes one of these large portions by himself or herself without compensating it with physical activities, he or she will eventually start gaining weight.
    • Food advertisements - Nowadays adverts that encourage unhealthy foods, such as sugary drinks and snacks with high levels of fats, are all over the place from billboards to TVs and cinemas. These adverts give people the mentality that these foods are safe and actually cool to eat. On the contrary, most of them are junk foods with a lot of calories that can lead to weight gain.
  • Health factors: A number of hormone problems are known to cause people to obese and overweight. Some of them are hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid), PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) and Cushing’s syndrome. Hypothyroidism or underactive thyroid is a complication in which not enough thyroid hormones are produced from the thyroid glands. This condition causes weakness and tiredness all over the body. Cushing’s syndrome is when too much of the hormone, cortisol, is produced by the body’s adrenal glands. This condition can also develop when an individual overdoses on certain drugs like prednisone for longer periods of time. People who suffer from Cushing’s syndrome will gain weight and develop symptoms like a rounded face, obesity on the upper body, fat on the neck and thin legs and arms.
  • Pregnancy: It is usually normal for a woman to gain weight during pregnancy as a way of supporting the baby’s development and growth. Some women may naturally lose the weight after birth. However, others find it a challenge to lose the weight and it may even lead to obesity or being overweight.
  • Age: Aging adults tend to lose muscle with time, especially if they stay physically inactive for longer periods. This muscle loss reduces the rate at which calories are burned in the body leading to weight gain. Menopause, among other factors, also plays a role in weight gain among aging women. Many women gain more weight during menopause than they did in their earlier years.