Skip to main content

The Obesity Epidemic: Root Causes

  • Author:
  • Updated date:

I am a Board-Certified Physical Therapist and National Academy of Sports Medicine Certified Personal Trainer and Nutritionist.


The Obesity Nightmare

There is a major difference between obesity and being overweight. When you're overweight, the excess amount of body weight may potentially be due to bones, muscles, fat, or even water. Obesity is defined as body fat that has accumulated to the point where it can have detrimental effects on your health and well-being.

Your BMI (Body Mass Index), which indicates body fat percentage, is determined by a person's weight divided by the square of height in meters. In America and other Western countries, a BMI over the 30.0 range is considered to be obese.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention and NHANES (National and Nutrition Examination Survey) indicate that approximately two-thirds of adult men and half of adult women are either overweight or obese. Roughly 33 percent of children ages six to nineteen are overweight, and nearly 20 percent fall into the obese category. It should be noted, though, that it's sometimes difficult to determine if an adolescent is overweight because they develop at different times and rates.

Unfortunately, there is no one, single cause for being overweight or obese, just as there is no one, single treatment for it. If you are obese, whether it's due to an underlying health condition or due to unhealthy lifestyle choices or habits, the first thing you need to understand is that there is no easy fix—no miracle diet or magic pill that will fix it. Fighting obesity involves a complete lifestyle change. Treatments can range from a mix of exercise, healthier eating habits/diet, behavioral treatments, weight loss drugs—and in some severe cases, surgery. The following are some of the causes of this current epidemic problem, which is now categorized as a disease.


Causes of Obesity: Hereditary & Environmental Factors

Dating back thousands of years, we have always been taught that a family sticks together and has each other's back. The operative word being "taught". While these beliefs are actually good ones, there are other family heirlooms that can be passed along for generations that are not so good. We have all heard that famous cliche or seen a commercial of someone eating something and saying "it's just like Mom used to make" or "Grandma's recipe", well that could also be part of your weight problem.

Just like money, jewelry and other heirlooms are passed down the family tree, families also share lifestyles and diet/eating habits. While your great-grandmother's recipe may be absolutely delicious, it also could be simply unhealthy and not good for you. A perfect example of this would be Paula Dean. While her cakes and desserts have been one of the best for years on end and are to die for, they have so much sugar content in them that you might literally do just that. It's no wonder that she has a company that manufactures diabetic medications. Your environment plays a big role in your health as well. You might have a demanding work schedule and easy access to cheap, high caloric processed foods or the neighborhood gym is a bit too pricey in your opinion. The question you have to ask yourself is: How much is your health worth to you?

The easiest way to combat genes, environment, and family history is through education. Kind of like racism, no one is born hating other ethnic groups, it's a learned behavior that can easily be corrected. Just because the food is made a certain way because that's the way your family has always done it, doesn't make it any healthier and does not mean you have to make it in the same manner. Everyone is different and you can make your own choices of what's best for you. You can prep your meals at home so that you are not tempted to eat junk food during long work days. Your problem has already been identified, you're overweight or obese, so be honest with yourself, stop making excuses, and address the issue head-on.

Medications and Certain Medical Conditions

There is a large percentage of obese people that got that way from simply bad habits and overeating, however, there is a small percentage of people that gained an excessive amount of fat involuntarily through some type of underlying medical condition. Hypothyroidism is a condition in which your thyroid gland does not produce enough thyroid hormone. Being that the thyroid hormone regulates your metabolism, not enough of the hormone will result in your metabolism slowing down and a lot of disproportionate weight gain. Cushing's Syndrome is another medical condition that will perpetuate extreme weight gain. This affliction results when the adrenal glands produce a surplus of cortisol, the stress hormone which will make you want to eat more. Diabetes affects the body's ability to regulate blood sugar levels, in many cases this results in unwanted weight gain. Some people with clinically diagnosed depression will overeat, and can eventually lead to obesity.

Other inherited conditions and diseases of the brain have also been linked to obesity. Even birth control has caused unwanted weight gain in some women. There are also several prescribed medications that can bolster the body's fat percentage. Medications, most notably steroids such as some anti-depressants, high blood pressure drugs, and drugs prescribed for seizures have been associated with excessive weight gain.

This is why it's imperative that you get checked by a health care professional so that the root cause of your excessive weight gain can be determined correctly. Some people may have a condition that they are not even aware of. If you are trying to lose weight and have an affliction that opposes what you are trying to do is the equivalent of trying to ice skate uphill. Make it easier on yourself, go see your doctor.

Conditions that perpetuate weight gain

Conditions that perpetuate weight gain

Medical effects of obesity

Medical effects of obesity

Psychological and Emotional Factors

You might underestimate the effect that some psychological or emotional problems have on your weight, health, and well-being. I personally have always been confident and content with myself, but there are individuals that allow circumstances in their lives to affect their self-esteem. Self-esteem is just that, how one feels about/assesses themselves, not what anyone else thinks about you. As you might have noticed throughout this article, many of these factors are linked together and/or one can be the cause/preserve the other. Emotional or psychological issues such as stress, low self-esteem, and depression can not only alter your behavior but your eating habits as well. More often than not, they will change your eating habits to the point where they become grossly unhealthy and result in major weight gain. Lack of sleep and/or lack of exercise/physical activity will only heighten the severity of the issue.

No matter what you are going through in life, even if the circumstances seem never-ending, you always have to believe in yourself. Faith is believing what you don't want to believe. Having a negative mind can not lead to positivity. Understand that every problem, regardless of what it is, will not change overnight. It's a process that takes time, just as losing weight will. Some problems take a little longer to deal with than others, but always keep your head up.

Effects of Obesity on Health and Well-Being

The effects of obesity on your health and well-being are all negative. You would think this fact alone would be motivation enough for people to try to fix the problem; however, some people are just naturally hard-headed or reactive and do not respond to things until something tragic occurs, and it's too late. On the other hand, others may perfectly understand the health risks and really want to make changes, but they find it extremely difficult to make any headway in terms of losing weight.

Research has shown that obesity has been linked to lower life expectancy, heart disease and attacks, diabetes, joint and breathing problems, high cholesterol and high blood pressure, cancers, bone problems, hernias, arthritis, and deep vein thrombosis, just to name a few. In addition, obesity affects self-esteem, mobility, and the body's sweating response. It can also lead to depression, social discrimination, and even fewer employment opportunities.

This is not something that you can just close your eyes and wish it to go away. It's going to be a lot of work—a lot of hard work at that. It will not be easy. When you come to the point where you want to quit, and believe me you will, probably more than once, ask yourself one question: "Do I want to live?"

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.


Hmm on December 18, 2016:

Good info

Dianna Mendez on August 23, 2015:

Coming from a large family that ate three hearty meals each day. I had to learn proper diet and nutrition to combat the tendency to overeat. Also, we do have family traits towards obesity which leads to diabetes. Thanks for the information.

catmalone on August 05, 2015:

Great Hub with useful information. I used to hear people always say throughout my life that this disease and that disease run in my family. It runs in their family because they continued to following the same unhealthy eating patterns that their family had therefore the same disease continue. Thats for sharing!

Paula on August 04, 2015:

Many parents complain that their children refuse to eat fruits and vegetables and only want unhealthy food, and yet the parents only eat these things in front of the child and rarely has an apple or a cucumber. Of course the child doesn't want to eat something that sees the parent rejecting. My opinion.

Great hub Kevin. Have a nice day.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on August 03, 2015:

Well done. You have a great healthy approach to a serious problem. If we focus on being as healthy as we can then there just ain't much room for fat.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on August 03, 2015:

Chock full of good information, as always. Thanks for explaining the differences between overweight and obesity. Your illustrations are very helpful, and the 'Psychological and Emotional Factors" is a great bonus. Thank you.