What causes obesity? Learn about the health risks of morbid obesity. Becoming obese is dependent on quite a number of factors.

What Causes Obesity?

Simply put, obesity is a medical condition that comes about due to the consumption of high calorie meals over a considerable duration of time. Becoming obese is dependent on quite a number of factors. Some of these factors may include genetics, behaviour and the environment as well. Also, there are some illnesses that are closely associated with obesity. In a lot of cases, there is significant help available and patients are never alone.

  • According to the World Health Organization, “The fundamental cause of obesity and overweight is an energy imbalance between calories consumed and calories expended.”

Our Calorie Balance

In ten years, an average person eats about 10 million calories but their weight typically only changes by about 5kg up or down. So in most cases, our weight remains stable over time. This is because our bodies control our calorie balance very precisely; much like a thermostat keeps the temperature of a room steady. Our genes and our environment both affect the setting of this ‘weight thermostat’ and can cause a calorie imbalance. For example, our genes can affect the amounts and types of food that we prefer to eat. And our environment affects the amounts and types of food that are available to eat. So most of the time, our body weight is controlled by instinctive drives. This is why it is absurd to say that obesity is simply due to a lack of willpower. This is an incorrect assumption and a simple way of looking at a very complex medical condition. It can make people feel guilty or stigmatised and can affect their daily life. If you feel that your weight is affecting your life, whether it be your energy levels, mental health, relationships or is having an impact on your health, it may be time to reach out and speak to a weight loss surgeon. The sooner a patient takes the first step in their weight loss journey, the less chance there is of adverse effects developing as a result of being morbidly obese. Despite what many people who do not understand what it is like to be obese, there are medically identified points that contribute to morbid obesity and many are out of the person’s control:

  • Biological factors such as age, sex, hormonal changes and genetics.
  • Societal factors such as the social, economic and political environment an individual is in.
  • Other co-contributing medical conditions such hypothyroidism.

The Environment and Obesity

Obesity is becoming more and more common, mainly due to changes in mankind’s food availability and changes in an individuals daily calorie expenditure. Environmental and genetic factors are in fact directly related – if you genetically predisposed to morbid obesity, then the changing lifestyle and environment can make managing weight a very difficult task and many people who are obese may feel that there is nothing they can do, when in fact there are great people, such as weight loss surgeons, who solely dedicate their lives to overweight people get their lives back. Most modern jobs involve people staying on desks in offices and this phenomenon does not allow them to move about and burn off energy gained from meals during the day. For those suffering from morbid obesity, anything less than a total change in environment usually results in failure to reach and maintain a healthy body weight.

Genes and Obesity

Studies with twins and adopted children have shown that genetics play a major role in determining if someone will become obese. In a study conducted in Denmark, researchers found that if twins who had the same genes are raised separately by two different families, their weight changes over the course of the study were correlated. Even though they were raised in completely different homes, with different diet & exercise levels, their weight change was found to be strongly genetically controlled. This ground breaking study was not alone – certain groups of humans, such as the Pima Indian tribe in Arizona, have been found to be genetically predisposed to obesity. Some genes may control appetite and can make you feel “full” after eating much earlier or much later than other many people. This may lead to overeating and weight gain. Some genes may make you more responsive to the taste, smell or sight of food – just like how some people love vegetables and some people become physically sick after eating vegetables. Some genes may affect your sense of taste, making high fat foods taste better than it should. Some genes may make us less likely to engage in physical activity.

Behavior and  Obesity

We cannot alter our genetic make-up and at times it can be very difficult to control our environment. It used to be the case that weight fluctuations came down to an equation of calories in versus calories out. Those who consumed more calories than they burned would get heavier, while those who burned more than they took in would lose weight. However, it is know widely understood that things are not quite as simple as that. Scientists now tend to talk in terms of a person’s “set point,” which is a moving position within the brain which renders certain people particularly resistant to gaining or losing weight. Those who attempt to fight against their set point through dramatic calorie cutting will often cause the brain to proportionally lower its metabolic function, thus actually slowing down weight loss and prompting weight gain.

Medical and Eating Disorders

It is important to realise that surgical weight loss procedures do not represent a panacea for those who are morbidly obese or who are battling an eating disorder. Hypothyroidism and other medical conditions are also responsible for weight gain in many individuals. Therefore, it is essential to remain in close consultation with a physician who will be able to identify whether any medical conditions exist which are preventing effective weight management. If such conditions are discovered, the doctor will have the ability to prescribe appropriate counselling and/or medical interventions.