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What causes obesity

The exact cause and nature of obesity is a subject of extensive and ongoing research. As on date, scientists believe that a complex interaction between multiple factors, mainly physiological, genetic, environmental,  psychological and cultural factors give rise to obesity. Let’s take a brief look at these factors and how they affect obesity.


I. Physiological factors

Calorie intake and calorie requirement mismatch – If the  calorie intake of an individual is  more than the  calorie requirement, the excess calories are converted to fat and stored in the body for use later on. If the excessive calorie intake becomes a regular feature, it leads to excessive fat storage in the body leading to obesity.

Factors which determine the amount of calories needed in a day

II. Genetic Factors

There are some families wherein all members are obese. The cause may lie in genetic factors, sedentary family life style, or bad food habits and overeating. Whether the obesity is due to genetic factor or lifestyle is sometimes difficult to tell, because the family members share not only genes but also diet and lifestyle habits that may contribute to obesity. Separating these lifestyle factors from genetic ones is often difficult. Still, growing evidence points to  heredity as a  strong determining factor of obesity.

The above factor is seen in cases of children of obese parents brought up by foster parents. The child usually follows the weight pattern of the genetic parents rather than the foster parent, showing that the genetic make up is of greater influence than environmental and family influences.

Those with a family background of obesity may find it harder to cope with and overcome obesity, but with diligent effort, much can be gained, or should we say “lost”?

III. Environmental Factors

The environmental factors including the sedentary lifestyle, increased availability of calorie rich foods, unregulated chaotic patterns of eating, increased incidence of stress in fast paced life contributes to increased prevalence of obesity.

We cannot change our genetic background, but we can surely change our lifestyle and environment to make it less conducive to the development of cardiovascular disorders.

IV. Behavioral factors

Our current modern day lifestyle is dominated by silicon chips or micro-processors. Playgrounds have given way to computer games, our market place has suddenly shrunk to a fancy website where you use a mouse for shopping and a plastic card to pay. As an icing on the cake, we have pizzas, burgers and chocolates delivered home, with household cooking becoming an occasional hobby. The conclusion :  Low Physical activities + High Calorie Diet = Obesity.

V. Psychological Factors

When a child cries, the mother often feeds the child rather than trying to find out the cause of the cry. This habit never seems to be forgotten. Even in adult life, a person under strain and stress will often overeat to satisfy a psychological need rather than a physiological need. Many people have a tendency to eat in response to a negative emotion like boredom, sadness, anger, stress etc. They eat large amounts of food with a feeling that they have no control over the food intake. Referred to as binge eating, about 30 %  cases of obesity may have such a factor in its background. Such patients need special help, psychological counseling, psychotropic drugs to overcome anxiety and depression before they can successfully manage their weight.

VI. Miscellaneous Causes of Obesity

Some of the rarer causes of obesity include  hypothyroidism (low levels of thyroid hormones: the metabolic regulator of the body),  Cushing’s  syndrome,  depression (exaggerated grief reaction disproportionate to the cause), and certain  neurological (brain and nerve related) problems  that can lead to overeating. Certain drugs, such as  steroids and some antidepressants, may cause excessive weight gain. While consulting a doctor for control of obesity, it is better to be frank about such matters, as it can make the task of weight reduction easier.