Obesity rates are skyrocketing across the nation. The latest reports from 2022 show that a shocking 41.9% of American adults are now obese.
Only a decade ago, there was no state in the country with an adult obesity rate over 35%. Now, just 10 years later, there are 19 states above this threshold.
Sadly, this epidemic doesn’t just affect adults. America has the highest rate of childhood obesity of any nation, and the number of overweight children is double that of the world average.
What causes obesity? Why are obesity rates getting worse, despite more awareness and education? Most importantly, what’s the solution to reversing weight gain and getting back down to a healthy weight?
Keep reading below as we explore this topic in-depth.
Table of Contents
First of all, what is obesity? What’s the difference between someone who’s overweight and someone who’s obese?
Since bodies come in all shapes and sizes, it’s impossible to make a blanket rule or choose a set number that encompasses obesity. Rather, the primary way doctors make this determination is by calculating the patient’s Body Mass Index, or BMI.
The BMI index measures the average body weight against the average body height of the population. You can use a BMI calculator to determine which category you fall into:
- You’re considered underweight if your BMI is less than 18.5
- A healthy weight is a BMI between 18.5 and 24.9
- You’re considered overweight if your BMI is between 25 and 29.9
- You’re considered obese if your BMI is 30 or higher
Of course, there are some exceptions to this rule. Bodybuilders and other professional athletes may have a high BMI but aren’t considered obese because they have a low percentage of body fat. It’s also possible to have a “normal” weight but a high percentage of body fat, which translates into obesity.
Doctors may also measure a patient’s waist circumference to determine whether they’re overweight or obese (and to choose the best possible treatment options). Men with a waist measurement of over 40 inches and women with a waist measurement of over 35 inches typically have a higher risk of weight-related health issues.
What Causes Obesity?
Why is obesity on the rise, not just in America, but around the world? Let’s consider 10 major contributing factors to increasing obesity rates.
1. Eating Too Much
Perhaps one of the most obvious causes of obesity is the reason for any weight gain: consuming more calories than your body can burn.
Or, in other words, eating too much.
Think back to your high school science or nutrition class when you learned about calories. The average man (with an active lifestyle) needs to consume about 2,500 calories a day to maintain his body weight, while the average woman needs around 2,000 calories a day.
For either of these persons to gain one pound, they’d need to consume an extra 3,500 calories beyond their normal calorie intake.
This may sound like a lot, but the majority of food in our modern society is loaded with fat, sugar, carbohydrates, and you guessed it calories. Even worse, these are the foods we tend to crave.
One potato chip or one cookie might not do much damage, but how many people stop at one? The average bag of salted potato chips has 1,242 calories, so it’s not hard to see how those extra calories can add up fast!
2. Eating the Wrong Foods
Not everyone struggles with quantity when it comes to eating. For some of us, it’s choosing the wrong foods that contribute to weight gain rather than foods that help us stay slim.
We’ve all heard the importance of eating a balanced diet that focuses on fresh vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean proteins, and low-fat dairy products. It sounds simple enough, so why is it so difficult to eat well?
Admittedly, some families don’t have the budget to buy (or have adequate access to) fresh produce or high-quality protein. Others may think they’re making healthy eating choices that, in reality, are sabotaging their weight loss efforts.
For example, spaghetti with meat sauce doesn’t sound too unhealthy, does it? Well, if you order the Pasta Napoletana from Cheesecake Factory, you’re putting down a mind-blowing 2,480 calories from one dish.
Or how about a chicken salad wrap for lunch? That sounds fairly healthy, right? Think again the Oriental Chicken Salad Wrap from Applebee’s contains a shocking 1,910 calories.
Since we only need to consume an extra 3,500 calories to gain one pound, it’s becoming clearer why our modern diet is one of the leading causes of obesity.
3. Other Poor Eating Habits
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with dining out sometimes. But let’s face it the majority of us dine out too often. And when we do, we’re more tempted to order not just our entree, but perhaps a starter, a dessert, and a sugary drink.
Those extra calories that lead to weight gain can pile up in just a few minutes!
We all lead hectic lives, and sometimes all we can do is stop at that drive-through on the way home from work. The problem is that most offerings from fast-food restaurants are highly processed and loaded with sugar and fat. At the same time, they’re devoid of fiber and other nutrients your body desperately needs.
The result? We literally become addicted to fast food and junk food that offers little in the way of nutrition. This creates a vicious cycle of poor eating habits that, over time, can lead to weight gain and obesity.
4. Too Many Sugary Beverages
So far, food has been in the spotlight, but let’s consider one of the other major obesity causes: beverages. In fact, for many people, their daily drinking habits could be the hidden reason behind excessive weight gain!
Consider a few examples of popular drinks that are loaded with calories and sugar:
- 7-11 Double Gulp soda: 600 calories, 190 grams of sugar
- Starbucks White Chocolate Mocha Frappuccino: 410 calories, 54 grams of sugar
- Jamba Juice Peanut Butter Shake: 840 calories, 122 grams of sugar
- Orange Julius Strawberry Banana Shake: 600 calories, 87 grams of sugar
Shocking, isn’t it? Thanks to clever marketing and convenience, we’re all programmed to order drinks like these without thinking twice about it.
But the truth is that many of these drinks have more calories than the meal we consume them with. For example, at just over 1,000 calories, a Five Guys milkshake has almost twice the calories of a piece of homemade lasagna.
Even some seemingly “healthy” choices like bottled fruit juices are full of added sugar and calories. And in case you’re wondering if diet drinks are any better, the answer is no. In fact, researchers have found that artificial sweeteners (like the kind in diet soda) can actually prompt food cravings.
5. Not Enough Physical Activity
If we consume more calories than our body needs, the extra calories get stored as fat and we gain weight.
The reverse is also true. To lose one pound, you need to burn 3,500 more calories than you consume. If you wanted to lose a pound a week, you’d need to reduce your calorie intake by about 500 calories each day or find a way to burn those excess calories through physical exercise.
This is easier said than done. The average person needs to do about an hour of high-intensity aerobic exercise (such as running, cycling, rowing, or swimming) to burn 500 calories. This is well above the 150 minutes of weekly physical activity the CDC recommends for adults.
Unfortunately, the majority of Americans get nowhere near the recommended amount of exercise, let alone the hour of daily high-intensity activity needed to shed those extra pounds.
In fact, one report found that the average man engages in physical activity for just 24 minutes a day, while the average woman is physically active for only 14 minutes daily. Combined with overeating and other poor eating habits mentioned above, it’s no wonder obesity rates are skyrocketing across the nation.
6. Too Much Alcohol
Alcohol is another sneaky (and often overlooked) contributor to weight gain. Some drinks, such as a glass of wine or a vodka and soda, are fairly low in calories. Others, though, are right up there with the sugary soft drinks we discussed above.
A Long Island Iced Tea weighs in at a whopping 780 calories, while that tasty daiquiri or pina colada packs a 600-calorie punch. Meanwhile, a can of beer has around 150 calories, which isn’t so bad if you only have one.
The extra calories aren’t the only connection between alcohol and weight gain, though. Alcohol also affects your appetite, your metabolism, your sleep, and your motivation all of which can wreak havoc on your weight loss efforts.
7. High Stress Levels
Have your stress levels been on the rise during the past few years? We all chuckled at the funny memes that circled the internet during the pandemic, but the connection between stress and weight gain is real.
For one thing, prolonged periods of stress signal your body to produce more cortisol. In turn, you produce more insulin, which can lead to sugar cravings and binge eating.
To make matters worse, stress also tends to slow the body’s metabolism. So when you’re stressed, you’re not only likely to eat more (and eat the wrong types of foods), but your metabolism can’t work fast enough to burn those extra calories.
8. Environmental Factors
Hundreds of years ago, our ancestors spent their days working long hours at physically demanding jobs. They also ate “real” food that was minimally processed, locally sourced, and free from additives.
Our modern lifestyle although convenient isn’t designed to keep us slim, fit, and healthy. The majority of us sit for most of our waking hours at work or at school. Then we sit in our cars on the way home and spend the rest of the night sitting on the couch.
You’ve probably even heard the catchphrase that “sitting is the new smoking,” at least in terms of health risks.
To be fair, our sedentary lifestyle is hardly our fault. We’ve moved to a screen culture where we spend most of our waking hours staring at either a computer, phone, or television. At the same time, people in many neighborhoods don’t have easy access to parks, trails, or other areas designed for outdoor activity.
9. Psychological Factors
In addition to all these outside influences, there are also a number of psychological factors that contribute to weight gain and obesity.
Depression and anxiety can lead to overeating or binge eating. The same is true of loneliness, boredom, anger, and low self-esteem.
It’s a natural instinct to eat to make ourselves feel better. After all, certain types of food activate different pleasure centers inside our brains. Unfortunately, any psychological imbalance can lead to poor eating habits or even food addictions.
10. Medical Factors
For some people, an underlying medical condition may contribute to weight gain or their inability to lose weight. Examples include:
- Hormonal imbalances
- Underactive thyroid
- Prader-Willi syndrome
- Cushing’s syndrome
- Polycystic ovary syndrome
In addition, some types of medication may lead to weight gain and make it more difficult to lose extra weight. This includes some types of antidepressants, corticosteroids, and medication to treat seizures and epilepsy.
The Best Treatments for Obesity
As we’ve discussed, there are many different answers to the question, “What causes obesity?” It’s not always as simple as eating too much often there are a variety of factors that contribute to weight gain.
Just like there are many obesity causes, there are many different paths to weight loss. Some people need help controlling cravings and making healthier lifestyle choices, while others need treatment for underlying medical conditions.
UnCraveRx is passionate about helping people like you to successfully fight obesity. Our team of medical experts is here to guide and support you every step of the way.
Click here to learn more about our individualized weight loss programs and get in touch with a provider in your area.
UnCraveRx is a complete medical weight loss program designed to foster a healthy lifestyle. Find an UnCraveRx provider and get started toward better health https://uncraverx.com/find-provider/