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What Causes Obesity?

There are several factors that contribute to obesity; some of them are factors that we have control over, like our eating habits and activity level, while others are more complex. Genetic factors, environmental and behavioral factors and our metabolism are all major contributors in our relationship with weight.

Factors that Influence Obesity

  • Your genetic makeup determines your eye and hair color, and it can also influence how easily you gain or lose weight. Some genetic combinations can even predispose us to obesity. While this is a contributing factor, its important to recognize that our genetics alone do not define our destiny, and some of these effects can be offset by eating a healthy, balanced diet and exercising more.

    Examples of Genetic Factors Influencing Weight

    • Did you know that identical twins are more likely to have similar body weights than fraternal twins who do not share the exact same genetic makeup? It has also been documented that adopted children carry weight completely differently than their adoptive parents and siblings, even though they spend years eating the same meals and following the same basic nutrition plan.


  • Environmental and behavioral factors can heavily influence our weight. Environmental factors include where we live, the resources we have available and who we surround ourselves with. Behavioral factors include the choices we make: like how we choose to spend our time and what we decide to eat.

    Examples of Environmental and Behavioral Factors Influencing Weight

    • Did you know that, on average, Americans consume 3-4 times the amount of sugar recommended by the FDA, eat nearly five times the amount of recommended meat, and take in 1,500 calories more than the suggested daily amount? In addition to unhealthy diets, our physical activity is extremely low. Approximately 80% of our population is not getting enough exercise.
  • Your metabolism is the process that turns the food you eat into energy. If you have a slow metabolism, you are likely to gain weight more easily – instead of using the calories you eat for energy, your body stores them as fat, resulting in weight gain.

    Metabolism is influenced by genetics, and is largely out of our control: daily exercise is the only proven way to speed up a slow metabolism.

    The Set Point Theory

    Instead of the “calories in vs. calories out” model that used to apply to weight management, researchers have identified what they call the “set point theory.”

    This is the idea that there is a sort of thermostat in the brain that makes each person resistant to weight change. Think of it in terms of a house: if you turn the air conditioning to 72 degrees on a hot summer day, the unit will run and run until the house is cool. Once you shut the air conditioning off, however, the house warms back up. In other words, once efforts to lose weight stop, the weight comes right back.

    This helps explain why traditional weight loss methods may produce a moderate amount of success, level off, and then ultimately fail for so many individuals. If you’ve been unable to lose weight and keep it off, your “set point” might be to blame.

    Weight loss surgery has been shown to lower the body’s natural “set point,” but it requires regular exercise to maintain.


Lessons Learned

  • Obesity is influenced by factors that we can and and can’t control. For the factors we can’t control, we can learn to manage them.
  • In order to lose weight and keep it off, dieting and exercise alone will not be enough for most people. Bariatric surgery is a tool you can use to find lasting success.
  • Obesity is a chronic disease that is influenced by the processes within your body. This means that it can be managed, but it can’t be cured. Making a lifelong commitment to eating a healthy diet and exercising daily will be necessary to avoid weight regain.


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