Obesity is a complicated disease that is affecting more and more people every day. It isn’t simply a body image concern; it is a medical condition that can lead to serious illnesses if not treated. The fact is, some people are genetically predisposed to this condition but for others it’s through years and years of poor eating habits and a sedentary lifestyle that can cause this excessive weight gain.

What is Obesity?

Obesity is not the same as simply being overweight. Those who are considered obese would have to have a body mass index of 30 or more. When someone is obese, it also means that they are at a greater risk of contracting serious disease such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. Obesity is difficult to treat as it requires lifestyle changes. Often people who are obese will lose weight only to unfortunately regain it back a few years later. However, with the right combination of treatments, weight loss is possible for individuals who are obese and some have been successful in losing weight and keeping it off.

Causes and Symptoms of Obesity?

Obesity can be considered to be a disease that is highly linked to food intake and exercise, although it also can be caused from certain medical conditions. Here are some top causes of obesity:

1. Diet

Eating high energy density foods such as breads, pastas, pastries and fast food items can lead to obesity if eaten frequently and over a long period. Not eating healthy foods such as fibre-rich fruits, whole grains, and green leafy vegetables can not only create havoc in the digestive system but can also lead to weight gain.

2. Medical conditions

Certain health conditions can lead to weight gain. These conditions include: Poly-cystic ovarian syndrome, Prader-Willi syndrome, Cushing syndrome, hypothyroidism and osteoarthritis.

3. Emotional Eating

Emotional eating is overeating in response to negative emotions such as stress, boredom, anger or frustration. Around 30% of overweight people report that they have issues with binge eating.

4. Genetics

Around 400 genes have been said to contribute to overweight or obesity. These genes can influence factors such as appetite, metabolism, food cravings, satiety, emotional eating and body fat distribution in the body. Genetic influence can vary from person to person and can range from as low as a 25% influence to as high as a 80% influence.

5. Frequency of Eating

How often you eat can actually play a role in weight gain. Overweight people tend to eat less often than people with normal weight. Studies show that those who eat smaller meals four or five times a day have lower cholesterol levels and more stable blood sugar levels than people who eat only two to three meals per day.

6. Sleep Habits

Lack of sleep can cause hormonal changes in the body and can affect hunger and appetite. Sleep deprivation over a long period can have serious effects on your metabolism and set you up for weight gain. How do you know if you are obese? Here are some top symptoms to look out for:

  • Breathlessness
  • Snoring or sleep apnea
  • Unable to do physical activity
  • Excessive sweating
  • Exhaustion or tiredness on a day to day basis
  • Back and joint pains
  • Hormonal imbalance (irregular periods, mood swings,etc)
  • Skin and hair issues
  • Lack of confidence and low self-esteem
  • Feeling alone/isolated


Risk factors

Obesity usually results from a combination of causes and contributing factors:

Family inheritance and influences

The genes you inherit from your parents may affect the amount of body fat you store, and where that fat is distributed. Genetics may also play a role in how efficiently your body converts food into energy, how your body regulates your appetite and how your body burns calories during exercise.

Obesity tends to run in families. That’s not just because of the genes they share. Family members also tend to share similar eating and activity habits.

Lifestyle choices

  • Unhealthy diet.A diet that’s high in calories, lacking in fruits and vegetables, full of fast food, and laden with high-calorie beverages and oversized portions contributes to weight gain.
  • Liquid calories.People can drink many calories without feeling full, especially calories from alcohol. Other high-calorie beverages, such as sugared soft drinks, can contribute to significant weight gain.
  • If you have a sedentary lifestyle, you can easily take in more calories every day than you burn through exercise and routine daily activities. Looking at computer, tablet and phone screens is a sedentary activity. The number of hours you spend in front of a screen is highly associated with weight gain.

Certain diseases and medications

In some people, obesity can be traced to a medical cause, such as Prader-Willi syndrome, Cushing syndrome and other conditions. Medical problems, such as arthritis, also can lead to decreased activity, which may result in weight gain.

Some medications can lead to weight gain if you don’t compensate through diet or activity. These medications include some antidepressants, anti-seizure medications, diabetes medications, antipsychotic medications, steroids and beta blockers.

Social and economic issues

Social and economic factors are linked to obesity. Avoiding obesity is difficult if you don’t have safe areas to walk or exercise. Similarly, you may not have been taught healthy ways of cooking, or you may not have access to healthier foods. In addition, the people you spend time with may influence your weight — you’re more likely to develop obesity if you have friends or relatives with obesity.


Obesity can occur at any age, even in young children. But as you age, hormonal changes and a less active lifestyle increase your risk of obesity. In addition, the amount of muscle in your body tends to decrease with age. Generally, lower muscle mass leads to a decrease in metabolism. These changes also reduce calorie needs, and can make it harder to keep off excess weight. If you don’t consciously control what you eat and become more physically active as you age, you’ll likely gain weight.

Other factors

  • Weight gain is common during pregnancy. Some women find this weight difficult to lose after the baby is born. This weight gain may contribute to the development of obesity in women. Breast-feeding may be the best option to lose the weight gained during pregnancy.
  • Quitting smoking.Quitting smoking is often associated with weight gain. And for some, it can lead to enough weight gain to qualify as obesity. Often, this happens as people use food to cope with smoking withdrawal. In the long run, however, quitting smoking is still a greater benefit to your health than is continuing to smoke. Your doctor can help you prevent weight gain after quitting smoking.
  • Lack of sleep.Not getting enough sleep or getting too much sleep can cause changes in hormones that increase your appetite. You may also crave foods high in calories and carbohydrates, which can contribute to weight gain.
  • Many external factors that affect your mood and well-being may contribute to obesity. People often seek more high-calorie food when experiencing stressful situations.
  • Your gut bacteria are affected by what you eat and may contribute to weight gain or difficulty losing weight.
  • Previous attempts to lose weight.Previous attempts of weight loss followed by rapid weight regain may contribute to further weight gain. This phenomenon, sometimes called yo-yo dieting, can slow your metabolism.

Even if you have one or more of these risk factors, it doesn’t mean that you’re destined to develop obesity. You can counteract most risk factors through diet, physical activity and exercise, and behavior changes.


Article by:

Devika Srivastava
Senior Dietitian
Care Hospital
Devika Khare
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