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What are the Causes of Obesity?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 17, 2024
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The causes of obesity are numerous and it’s mistaken to assume that carrying unhealthy amount of excess body weight is the result of one or two factors at most. What results in obesity, which can be defined as 20% or greater weight than normal weight or a body mass index higher than 30, is complex, requiring individual attention to each person. Some of the things considered causes of obesity include genetics, medications, certain illnesses, certain chemical imbalances, and clearly some forms of behavior that involve diet and exercise.

People are often given simple explanations about how calories are burned or how effective exercise is, but genetics play a role as one of the causes of obesity. People tend to be shaped much like their parents and some studies of adopted children confirm that independent of dietary and exercise behavior in an adoptee’s family, some people are either thinner or fatter as a result of what their parents are like. They could rapidly burn calories and be very thin, tend toward normal weight, or be overweight.

Along with basic genetic makeup, many people have conditions that are considered causes of obesity. Mental illness is one of these on its own, and it’s complicated by the fact that many medications for mental disorders create significant weight gain. Those who produce too little thyroid hormone, which is not uncommon, frequently carry extra weight. These illnesses or disorders make losing weight very difficult and treatment of the underlying disorder doesn’t necessarily cause weight loss.

Obesity is one of the causes of obesity; overweight people are likely to gain more weight. When overweight, it is harder to exercise or reduce calories to an acceptable level. Most people inch up as the years go by, if they are unable to lose weight, and they may go from mild obesity to morbid forms. Moreover, it’s been shown that obesity tends to occur in family or social groups or be “contagious,” in the sense that it can influence poor behavior in everyone belonging to the group.

It would be a mistake to say that behavior or diet and exercise habits don’t cause obesity. They very often do or add to the other causes like poor health and genetics, to make matters worse. In many industrialized countries people overeat and their bodies are not active enough to burn calories consumed. Lifestyles can be very sedentary too, with more people sitting or “vegging” instead of pursuing physical activity. When these qualities present in a society, such as in the US, it suggests people need education to learn about healthy eating and ways to increase calorie burning.

Yet since causes of obesity can be varied, it also makes sense to get physician guidance on weight loss. When people are doing all the right things and not seeing any results, their problems could due to a variety of factors deserving exploration. A multi-pronged approach might be necessary for some people so they can gradually work toward a healthier weight.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen , Writer
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.

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Tricia Christensen

Tricia Christensen


With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia...
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