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Why Are People Obese?

Written By: Emma Squillace

Often we talk about how to best treat obesity. And this makes sense because our primary goal is helping people with obesity to find better health and reach their goals. But if you’ve seen news stories about the rising obesity epidemic, you may wonder how is it that so many people struggle with obesity in the first place. Is it truly a question of too many people eating too much fast food? Do we not have the willpower that people had decades or centuries ago? Would exercising more take care of the obesity epidemic? The most basic answer is to all these questions is “no”. Obesity is much more complex than eating fast food, not exercising enough, or a ‘lack of willpower’. Today we’ll discuss a few key factors in obesity.


There is a strong genetic component to carrying extra weight. This does not mean that if you are genetically predisposed to be overweight or obese that you definitely will be, but it generally means that you could have a more difficult time staying at a normal weight. Some people just burn calories in a more effective way. For instance, one person weighing 180 pounds may be able to eat 2400 calories a day and maintain that weight, which another may need to stay under 2000 calories to maintain that seem weight – even regardless of exercise. You may also be genetically predisposed to gain weight from eating more carbs, for example, than someone else is.


There’s another factor called epigenetics, that can play a large role in weight. Epigenetics is a bit more complicated than genetics, but it means the way our genes choose to act. While you may have a gene that indicates you’re more likely to gain weight easily – epigenetics is the factor related to how strongly that gene expresses itself. An example of where epigenetics can make a big difference is with a type of food, like fast food. Two people with similar genes for excess weight could have their genes act in different manners in response to this food. For instance, some research indicates that exposure to fast food could change the way your genes for weight express themselves. It’s not just the calories or fat in fast food, but it’s the actual way they encourage your genes to act, that can cause obesity. Someone with the same genes, but less exposure to fast food, may have an easier time maintaining a healthy weight – even if they eat the same number of calories and have the same genes. Certain foods and environmental factors can make the same obesity genes more likely to act strongly. This is one reason that obesity is so complex.


So many of us feel like we do not get enough sleep, but don’t know how to realistically fit a longer night into our busy schedules. But missing out on sleep doesn’t just make you feel tired, it can actually have a substantial effect on your weight. Studies show that people who work night shifts, like nurses, can be especially prone to carrying extra weight. Sleeping too little, or on an irregular schedule, can interfere with metabolism and hormone levels. Additionally, when your body knows it’s tired it can retaliate by making you crave sugar. This is because your body wants something to give it energy to combat the drowsiness. People who are sleep deprived often consume more calories during the day.

Lifestyle factors

Did you know watching tv is linked to obesity? While watching tv is a factor we can control, for many people it’s a very routine part of their day. On the other hand, there are factors we have no control over – like whether our parents were exposed to pollutants before we were born. Some studies indicate that the time of day you eat can play an important role in your weight, and others indicate that the number calories consumed are not as important as the nutrients that go along with the calories. Even with all the studies and research done, scientists are far from having all the answers about causes of obesity. And while we of course would encourage anyone trying to lose weight to eat healthy foods and exercise, that is in no way a simple solution for substantial weight loss.

The factors we’ve covered today are just a handful of the ties that doctors have found with obesity. There are many more reasons, and every year we are discovering more about the mystery of being obese. The complexity of obesity is the reason bariatric surgeries like the gastric sleeve and gastric bypass are so important. These weight loss surgeries are the safest and most effective ways to lose a significant amount of weight. The operations do not make you lose weight automatically, but they set you up for success. The surgeries allow you to make the lifestyle changes, especially in the way you eat, and let you see success. Please reach out to us if there is anything we can answer for you about bariatric surgery or the process to get started. We can be reached at (855) 690-0565.

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