Causes of obesity

Overweight often caused by huge food portions

Margie´s Diner –  great food, but maybe the portion sizes are just a little too big?

Putting on Weight

Don´t feel too badly if you are overweight, as there are many others with the same problem in most countries. The statistics are incredible, as is the speed at which they reached the present epidemic proportions. In the case of the UK, for example, the average weight per person – man, woman and child – has increased by over 40 pounds since the mid-1960´s and the same thing has happened in many other countries. Nearly 70% of Americans are overweight and about 34% are obese. There are many causes of obesity, but it is important to remember that for most people it starts with just being a bit overweight.

Why has this happened? The reasons are complex and sometimes obscure  –  but, at the same time, there are some obvious things that apply to the majority of the overweight. People are probably no greedier now than they used to be, but one thing that has changed is that they, often unknowingly, consume much more sugar than in the past. Beer and other alcohols are also fattening  –  don´t believe anyone who tells you otherwise! Sitting around most evenings watching TV is fattening, specially if you also consume TV snacks. Electric lawn mowers, vacuum cleaners and cars all cause you, indirectly, to put on weight. They mean well, but their existence makes us do a lot less exercise.

Overweight often follows too much "fast food"

Food that will make you put on weight – fast!

“Fast foods” or  “junk foods” are fattening and often bad for you in other ways as well. They ooze stale low-quality fat – but a lot of us are addicted. Doesn´t the burger in the picture look good?  It´s even got a bit of salad in it  –  but we all know, really, that it´s not good for us nor, ultimately, our waist-lines. When you learn to enjoy healthy food, that hamburger will look horrible.

So, if you´re gaining weight you are not alone. A large chunk of the world is with you, even in the places where they don´t have too many cars or lawn mowers or vacuum cleaners. Why has this happened?

Causes of Overweight and Obesity

Overweight and obesity are caused in a majority of cases by consuming too many calories or doing insufficient exercise – often by a combination of the two things. Also, genes seem to play a large role, in that if you come from an overweight family, you are far more likely to be overweight too.

Connection Between Weight and Gut Bacteria

There is a strong ray of hope for those of us with weight problems!  Evidence is accumulating that problems with the bacteria in the gut can cause overweight or obesity problems, as well as various other disorders. The bacteria in our stomachs, and all over us as well as in us, are mostly benign and a lot of is essential for our health. It now seems probable that those who are overweight or obese have a much smaller array of bacteria in their guts and this causes them to put on weight, almost however hard they try to avoid it.  It also increases their danger of developing many other health problems.

This is a relatively new finding and many scientists are working feverishly. Firstly, to establish definitely if deficient gut bacteria does cause weight problems, rather than being the other way around. It looks very promising at the moment. Once this has been definitely established, then the way to take advantage of the finding must be found. A pill to abolish obesity?

You can read more about the connection between gut bacteria and weight here.

A. Eating and Drinking Too Much  (= too many calories)  

  • Sugar, in particular and alcohol can both put the pounds on fast.  Sugar is everywhere and most of what we consume we don´t even know about.
  • low-fat or diet foods are often packed with sugar and “health” foods are sometimes not so healthy when you look at the contents.

Read more on the effects of sugar on weight here.

More on alcohol and weight here.

B. Portion Sizes and “Binge Eating”

  • portion sizes are often ridiculous, specially in restaurants. (Burgers, for example, have more than doubled in size since 1980). Children are still taught that they should clear everything on the plate. “Waste not, want not”.
  • as many as 30% of obese people are “binge eaters”, who might eat quite reasonably for most of the time, but periodically have a huge meal – perhaps as much as 5,000 calories in one sitting.

C. Insufficient Physical Activity

Generally inactive life-style – long hours slumped in front of the TV, snacking on very fattening tit-bits. Journeys of more than half a mile often involve the car, when they could have been walked in 15 minutes. Appliances have made work around the house less strenuous and even the children don´t play active games as much any more, as they, too, are busy watching TV or playing computer games.

Additionally, long hours spent sitting also tends to make you fatter, specially, according to a new report in 2014, the buttocks. Sitting for long periods does not just cause large buttocks, but is also a health hazard in other ways.  (According to a much-publicised study in 2014, long periods of sitting also increases the risk of diabetes, heart disease and premature death, so we really ought to eat and watch TV standing up.)

D. Genetics and Family History

Parental obesity doubles the chance of a child being obese on growing up. It is true that overweight people tend to come from overweight families, as has been shown by experiments with twins who have been raised apart.  There is also the childhood environmental influence, with children often unconsciously copying their parents´ behaviour. If this includes a lot of sugar, say, then the kids are likely to grow up with a craving for sugar.

As far as saying:”I can´t do anything about my weight  –  I come from a fat family”, this is not true. You can and you should keep your weight under control, though it may well be much harder than it is for people who do not come from a family with a tendency towards being overweight.

The above above are the most common factors leading to overweight or obesity.

Other possible causes include: 


  • medical condition: There are many medical conditions that can cause weight gain.  Your gut may be slow, due to digestive issues, including slow bowel movements.
  • some medications: Particularly  some that are used to treat mood disorders, depression, seizures, diabetes, blood pressure, asthma, eczema, arthritis migraines  –  also antipsychotic drugs and insulin.


  • lack of fiber: Fiber is essential for losing or maintaining healthy weight  –  it helps in bowel health and gives a feeling of fullness.
  • not eating enough: An amazing percentage of people are dieting at any given moment (over 50% of American women, for example).  Not eating enough over prolonged period leads to a metabolism slow-up and the body begins to store fat.

Other factors which can contribute towards overweight and later obesity:

  • stress: The body may go into crisis mode, slowing down and storing fat. There is a  tendency to  reach for food as coping mechanism.  There also seems to be a strong link between lack of sleep and weight gain.
  • menopause: The menopause can cause weight gain.
  • birth control:  Weight increase is a common side-effect of many oral contraceptives.
  • depression: Depression can cause “emotional eating”, specially of  fattening “comfort foods”, like chocolate.
  • poverty: There is a correlation between poverty and obesity, as the poor tend to consume more processed food, which is usually much more fattening, than fresh food.

And finally…..

  • you´re getting older:  As we get older, we burn less calories  –  we need more exercise and less food to keep the metabolism going. We can´t do much about getting older. We can, though, make the best of it with a good daily diet, preferably mainly with “natural” foods, and exercise.
  • given up smoking:  There is a tendency for smokers to increase in weight  if they give up.  The benefits of giving up the expensive and dangerous habit of smoking are huge. Much better to give up, even if we do put on a few pounds!                                                                                                                                                                               (I know from personal experience that there is no inevitability here  –  I was a heavy smoker for many years, but have not put on any weight since giving up in several years ago.  I´ve noticed, though, that food tastes much better!)

What We Consume Versus What We Burn

Can anyone escape at least some of these many things that can cause weight gain? The reality is, of course, that the majority of overweight people are overweight because they consume too much in relation to what they burn through physical activity and they often also have very unhealthy diets, all of which we can do something about !  Maybe some of the other things that can cause weight gain will also apply,  but they are likely to be insignificant compared with the simple equation between the amount eaten and drunk compared with the amount used up by physical activity as well as by breathing, digesting and generating body heat.

Images courtesy of:

“The Portions at Margie´s Diner”   –   emdot                                           Other images   –   pixabay