Obesity Causes and Risk Factors

What causes obesity?

A person becomes obese when s/he consumes more calories than is being used by the body. This type of weight gain can take place over weeks, months, or years. In contrast, if you spend more energy than is taken in, weight loss occurs. Finally, if the amount of calories consumed equals the number of calories being used, the weight stays the same.

Risk factors

Risk factors increase the likelihood of experiencing a disease or condition. Some factors might contribute to the development of obesity. For example, you’re at higher risk obesity if you watch more than 2 hours of TV per day or are diagnosed with certain medical conditions.


Environmental factors – People who do not have enough time in the day to exercise due to long commutes are more at risk than others of becoming obese.

Ethnicity – Although obesity affects people of all ethnicities, ages, and backgrounds, Hispanic and African-Americans are at higher risk of developing obesity.

Genetics – Both obesity and being overweight may be influenced by genetics.

Gender – Women are more likely than men at becoming obese.

Income – Income is also correlated with a greater tendency to be obese, with women of lower-income being 50% more at risk of obesity than women of middle- and upper-income backgrounds.

Lifestyle – People who have just quit smoking are more at risk of becoming obese. Also, people who experience lack of sleep are more likely to be obese.

Medication – Taking medications such as corticosteroids or birth control pills can increase your risk of becoming obese.


Being obese is a serious health issue, as several disorders have been associated with being obese. By understanding the symptoms of obesity, you can take steps with your doctor to fall within a healthy weight range.

Obesity Symptoms


Causes and Risk Factors




Symptoms of weight gain

Symptoms of weight gain may or may not appear obvious to the person gaining weight, as it typically happens over time. Although you may gain weight over a matter of days (particular during the winter holidays), weight gain is more likely to occur over weeks, months, and years. Also, the body’s weight fluctuates day to day by a few pounds, usually due to water weight gain or loss. Thus, you may not be able to see symptoms of weight gain over a few days. 

The following symptoms indicate weight gain:

clothes feel tighter

friends or loved ones comment on weight gain

you see extra fat around your weight, legs, or buttocks

your scale displays a heavier weight

your waist belt needs adjusting to different notches


Obesity is accompanied by both physical and psychological consequences. Many diseases and disorders have been linked to being obese, including life-threatening conditions such as heart disease. However, obesity also affects a person’s self-esteem and may lead to depression. Let’s take a look at the diseases linked to being overweight and obese. Briefly, some possible consequences of obesity include:

breathing difficulties



diabetes (Type 2)


heart disease (atherosclerosis, heart attack, and chronic heart failure)

high blood pressure

osteoarthritis (especially with the knees, lower back, hips, and other weight-bearing joints)

reproductive problems

sleep apnea


When to seek help

If you notice symptoms of weight gain, and your body mass index (BMI) is increasing, you may want to talk with your doctor. In doing so, he/she can help evaluate your and then recommend an appropriate exercise program. You may also want to seek help depending upon what life stage you are about to enter. For example, weight gain is common for middle-aged men and women, who may be losing muscle mass, and so are not burning as many calories as usual. Or, if you are a recent high school graduate, you may want to avoid the weight gain that is common during the college years. These preventative measures will allow you to remain one step ahead of your body’s tendencies to gain weight as we get older, or have more sedentary behaviour typical of modern-day work.

Obesity Diagnosis


Causes and Risk Factors




A visit to your family physician, or paediatrician, will most likely be the way you’ll begin to diagnose the health of your weight. Obesity is relatively easy to diagnose, as the condition relies on measurements provided by a scale and measuring tape. Your doctor may also want to look at your overall health because weight problems are indicators of other potential health problems.

If weight gain cannot be explained by typical factors, your doctor may recommend that you see an endocrinologist, a specialist in the diagnosis of endocrine system disorders which regulate the hormones. This is because weight gain may be caused by another medical condition such as hormonal changes or Type 2 diabetes. Or if weight gain is due to depression, stress, or another psychological issue, your doctor may recommend you see a psychologist, psychiatrist, or mental health counsellor. Or, if your doctor determines that one weight loss solution is through surgery, then you may be recommended to a bariatric surgeon. Medical professionals who specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of obesity include:

Bariatric surgeon


Family doctors



Physical trainers



Medical history

To prepare for a medical history, it’s good to know that doctors are interested in factors relevant to possible weight gain such as lifestyle changes. Be sure to mention whether you have recently quit smoking or decreased physical activity during your appointment. Other factors, such as drinking alcohol or increased stress, may increase your risk of certain diseases in combination with weight gain.

Medical exams

In addition to medical history, your doctor will perform a physical exam to evaluate your health. One thing to keep in mind: if you are going to be weighed while fully clothed, it might be a good idea to wear clothes that are not especially heavy; heavy boots or coats can add several pounds to your total weight. However, be sure to wear the same clothing at later points during control testing so that you get accurate weight measurements.

Physical exam – During a physical, your doctor will measure the circumference of the waist, to determine if there is excessive fat around the abdominal region. If your waist circumference is greater than 40 inches for a man, or greater than 35 inches for a woman, then you are at a greater risk of developing certain diseases (e.g. heart disease) or disorders than if your waist is a smaller circumference. Additionally, your doctor may use the BMI index to see if, given your weight and height, you fall within a healthy weight range, or are overweight or obese. Finally, the doctor may measure the subcutaneous fat tissue (tissues between the skin and the muscles) at different points on the body such as the abdomen, arms and under the shoulder, plates to diagnose whether or not you are experiencing overweight or obesity.

Blood test – Blood tests may be ordered to identify possible hypothyroidism by looking for low levels of thyroxine, and high levels of TSH in the blood. Laboratory blood tests can also show whether the fat molecules, LDL, HDL, VLDL, cholesterol and TG, that are normally found in blood are in normal ranges or if they are increased.

Obesity Treatment


Causes and Risk Factors




Treatment for weight gain

Treating obesity is an important step for many Americans to live healthier lives, and to reduce other complications. Just by losing 5-10% of your body weight, you may be able to significantly reduce the risk of other disorders and diseases. Losing weight is not just about looking better . . . it is about making real changes to your life that may lengthen how long you live, and improve the quality of your life

Treatment options for weight gain are strongly dependent on a commitment to weight loss. Your doctor may recommend lifestyle changes, but acting upon these lifestyle changes is really up to you. In other situations, your doctor may determine that other treatment options are necessary, or preferable. Examples of treatment options may include a combination of both lifestyle and medical therapies.


Exercise – Increase the quantity of your physical exercise. In general, always start with an easier physical activity such as walking and increase activity from a slower tempo to a faster tempo. The purpose of this graduated exercise program is that the heart is supposed to get used to the increased need for blood flow due to physical activity. After a few weeks, you might then start riding a bicycle and later running a short distance with a slow tempo. Exercises that require a lot of effort such as aerobics and running should be avoided at the beginning due to risk of heart symptoms that can provoke a heart attack. If you have a child that is overweight or obese, your doctor may recommend physical activities that involve the whole family. Working with your doctor is important to establish a healthy exercise regimen, give your body’s needs, and medical history. Always consult your doctor before beginning a new exercise routine.

Keep a journal – Keep a written record of what you eat, and how much you exercise. Your doctor may also recommend that you write down how much you eat. Also, you may want to include your weight in this journal every several weeks. Adults can safely lose between 1-2 lbs per week.

Diet – Modify what you eat to include different types of foods in your diet. For example, eat more fruits and vegetables instead of fatty meats, and wheat bread instead of white bread. Additionally, you may need to cut down on the size of your food portions, especially in restaurants.

Reduce stress or anxiety – For some, stress, depression, and anxiety leads to both reduced physical activity and an increase in eating. By reducing stress through exercise, you will be able to better manage both your stress and your weight gain. Also, stress may increase weight gain for some people due to a lack of sleep; maintaining a regular and healthy amount of sleep, will allow you to better maintain your weight.


Medication may be prescribed if the underlying reason for obesity is due to another medical condition. For example, doctors may prescribe drugs for psychological issues, or in the case of hypothyroidism. Also, some drugs used to treat other conditions, such as seizures (topiramate and zonisamide), and diabetes (Metformin), have been shown to reduce weight loss. Medication is also prescribed for some of the following reasons:

Curb appetite – Medications such as Sibutramine may be prescribed to curb appetite.

Reduce calories – Some medications such as Orlistat can help reduce the amounts of calories and fats absorbed by your body. Over-the-counter medications might also help reduce the number of calories and fat that your body absorbs.

Supplements – Many supplements are touted as having weight-loss capabilities, including ephedra (also known as ma-huang), diuretics, and more. Over-the-counter supplements should be carefully evaluated with your doctor, as some types have been known to increase the blood pressure and puts stress on the heart. Other over-the-counter weight supplements may not have solid, clinically-proven results indicating effective weight loss. Again, carefully evaluate any over-the-counter supplements with the supervision of your doctor.


Surgery may be an option for obese persons who cannot find other effective methods, or for those with life-threatening complications. Surgery options include procedures called banded gastroplasty or gastric bypass.

Banded gastroplasty – Banded gastroplasty involves using a band or other device to limit the amount of food that your stomach can hold.

Gastric bypass – Gastric bypass limits food intake by creating a small stomach area that bypasses an area of your small intestine, which is where most calories are absorbed. As any surgery carries risks and side effects, you will need to carefully explore these options with your doctor to determine how they will impact you.

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