Causes of Obesity

There are various causes of obesity all of which have contributed to the obesity epidemic that we are currently experiencing throughout the world ('globesity').

Obesity is an excess of body fat that has an adverse effect on health and reduces life expectancy. It may be assessed using the Body Mass Index (BMI).

BMI is determined by dividing a person's weight in kilograms by their height in metres squared.

For example, a person who weighs 100 kilograms at a height of 1.82m (6ft) would be considered to be obese:

100 / (1.82 x 1.82) = 100 / 3.3124 = 30.19

The obvious exception to the body mass index being a useful tool is in cases where people have extreme muscularity like, bodybuilders.

Causes of Obesity

Here are the classifications for Body Mass Index (BMI):

BMI Classification

  • <18.5 Underweight

  • 18.5-24.9 Normal weight

  • 25.0-29.9 Overweight

  • 30.0-34.9 Obese

  • 35.0-39.9 Severely Obese

  • 40.0-44.9 Morbidly Obese

  • >45.0 Super Obese

  • Causes of Obesity: Genetics

    The rapid growth in the prevalence of obesity over the last 30 years discounts the possibility that obesity is mainly due to genetic factors otherwise the prevalence of obesity would have been far greater decades ago, as soon as food became easily accessible.

    Even though genetics certainly plays a role in obesity, whereby children of overweight parents are far more likely to become overweight themselves. Genetics more likely offers a predisposition to being obese when a favourable environment is present, i.e. excess calories, rather than having a direct impact.

    However, there are several rare genetic or congenital conditions that may result in obesity, i.e. Cohen syndrome, Prader-Willi syndrome and hypothyroidism.

    The influence genetics has as one of the causes of obesity also becomes obvious when you consider certain ethnic groups and the impact 'Westernisation' has on them.

    There is a hypothesis called the 'thrifty gene hypothesis' that postulates that ethnic groups are more prone to obesity in equivalent environments because their bodies have been designed, over thousands of years of evolution, for survival during 'feast' or 'famine' situations.

    Then, when they are placed in environments where there is an abundance of food they have a tendency to store more fat and therefore increase the likelihood of them becoming obese.

    The Pima Indians and Australian Aborigines are examples of these ethnic groups.

    Causes of Obesity: Nutritional Habits

    Eating Habits Are a Major Cause of Obesity

    Far more likely causes of obesity are excessive calorie intake and a lack of physical activity.

    Let's consider nutritional habits first.

    Throughout the world (with the exception of certain parts of Africa), over the last 40 years the total daily calorie intake has increased significantly. Total calorie consumption is directly related to the incidence of obesity, which makes it obvious that nutrition is one of the major causes of obesity!

    Unfortunately though, there have been several incidents over this period of time that have resulted in the obesity problem becoming far worse.

    Increased food intake

    Firstly, we must determine why people have increased their food/ calorie intake so much and there are several reasons why this has occurred:
  • Increased intake of high-density foods For example, soft drinks now make up about 25% of an average young adult's daily calorie intake. Plus, fast food consumption has tripled in the last 40 years!

  • Increased portion sizes The portion sizes of meals being served in restaurants and fast food outlets has increased substantially. Some research indicates that it has quadrupled in calories over the last 40 years!

  • Cost of food The fact is that it is far cheaper to eat poor quality, high-density, nutritionally-sparse foods as opposed to eating high-quality, fresh foods. This has resulted primarily from government economic policy which subsidises the cost of producing corn, wheat and soy, which are then used to make a variety of food sources for humans and animals.
  • Incorrect food recommendations

    The promotion of the USDA Food Pyramid by dieticians, nutritionists and various 'health' organisations over the years has certainly been a contributing factor simply due to the promotion of a high intake of refined carbohydrates (6-11 serves a day of foods like, bread, pasta, rice and cereals).

    Deceptive labeling of food

    Bad Eating Habits Interpreting food labels is often difficult because of the deceptive marketing strategies employed by food marketers in order to sell their products. No area is this more obvious than when it comes to the promotion of breakfast cereals.

    Here is some information on how to select the healthiest breakfast cereals. Even when reading some food labels it is difficult to know how much you should have.

    For example, the other day I was eating some flavoured 'Thin Corn Cakes'. I know they're not the best thing to eat because they are so high on the Glycemic Index but they are really tasty! Anyway, while I was eating them I was reading the nutritional information on the back of the packet. It said that a serving size (24 grams) contained 18 grams of carbohydrates and I thought that's not too bad so I'll just have a serving size.

    BUT! There was no indication how many corn cakes equaled a 24 gram serving size! This is simply another way food manufacturers can be deceptive in their labeling of food products. [NOTE: If anyone is interested I weighed it and it worked out to be 3 cakes.]

    Causes of Obesity: Sedentary Lifestyle

    A sedentary lifestyle is another major contributor to the causes of obesity. The availability of mechanised devices especially when it comes to transport along with technology that makes everyday tasks around the home much easier, have resulted in there being less activity being performed by the majority of the world's population.

    Children in particular, appear to be becoming less active. Less walking, organised sport and physical education in conjunction with a greater level of interest in non-physical past-times seem to have caused this trend.

    Furthermore, conclusive research indicates that there is a direct correlation between the rate of childhood obesity and the amount of time spent watching television.

    Causes of Obesity: Medication

    There are many types of medication that causes weight gain, which may then lead to obesity. Insulin, anti-psychotics, antidepressants, certain anti-convulsants and hormones are just a few examples. It is always best to speak with your doctor about your medication if you have concerns about it causing weight gain for you.

    Causes of Obesity: Social Factors

    It appears that in developed countries educational level and income are both inversely correlated with obesity, whereby better educated people as well as people with higher incomes are less likely to become obese.

    In developing countries, people from higher social classes have greater rates of obesity.

    There are several theories for the causes of these results. It is thought that in developed countries, the more educated, wealthy people can afford better quality food, understand the benefits of good nutrition and are under more social pressure to remain in good physical condition.

    In developing countries, the ability to afford food, reduced physical labour and cultural values favouring a larger body size have contributed to the results we see in these countries.

    Overall, there are many causes of obesity and they all need to be considered when it comes to creating a lifestyle for ourselves or for others in order to stay in good shape and avoid becoming overweight.

    Becoming obese is actually something that is for most people totally in their control! It is no longer possible to blame external factors for our physical condition. If we are serious about losing weight and achieving the body of our dreams, all we need to do is to make a decision, discover the most effective strategies and then take the necessary steps to incorporate the principles into our lifestyle.

    If you would like more information on all the best principles to help you lose all the weight you want and get in the best shape of your life, get a copy of my e-book, Look Good, Feel Great!

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