Causes of Obesity

by Catherine Rein
(last updated April 22, 2009)

Obesity is a national epidemic and is costing our healthcare system millions of dollars in preventable illnesses. You can help yourself and your family lead healthier, more productive lives if you understand the causes of obesity and what can be done to avoid it.

Obesity, like other eating disorders, has many causes and components to it. Some of the better-known causes include:

  • Genes and Heredity. Obesity tends to run in families where genetics and environmental factors combine to increase the likelihood of overeating. If your parents are sedentary, you are more likely to be as well.
  • Societal Pressures and Environmental Factors. Our cultural exposure, especially in the U.S., has increasingly been overwhelmed with food. Whether through advertisements for fast food or diet treatments, we are constantly bombarded with images of food. Our environment is increasingly sedative, with few opportunities for physical activity. You need to increase the opportunities available for you and your children to be active to avoid obesity in yourself and in your children.
  • Physical Causes. There are some physical conditions that can interfere with the body's way of moderating calorie consumption. Damage to the hypothalamus, which regulates appetite, can cause obesity. Other diseases may increase the level of cortisol, a stress hormone, which is known to increase the appetite. Hypothyroidism, a condition where the body's metabolism slows way down, is one of the significant causes of obesity in adults and children.

There are also medications that can cause obesity. Some steroids and migraine medications are known to cause weight gain by increasing the amount of fluid the body holds. Antidepressants and other stress treatments can cause increased weight gain.

Though there may be underlying physical or psychological conditions that make obesity worse, the fact of the matter is if you eat a diet of high calories/ high fat and get very little exercise you will gain weight. If you are overeating because of poor body image and depression, you need to address the underlying mental issues that are contributing to overeating.

Overcoming eating disorders is not easy and will require the help of trained professionals. A healthy body image and healthy mindset about weight are keys to avoiding eating disorders. By staying away from the scale and enjoying food because of its healthy taste and the way it strengthens your body you can begin to view your body in a different and healthy way.

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