Obesity is a prevalent challenge in society today – recent stats show that 28% of adults in England are obese and a further 36.2% overweight. Even worse, the being obese and fit myths, the infamous “fatlogic”, and weight bias haven’t helped control the obesity epidemic either.
So, what affects weight? While some have blamed it on a lack of willpower to maintain a healthy lifestyle, our understanding of the factors that affect body weight over the past few decades shows that some people may be at a disadvantage. We are talking about determinants such as genetics, culture, age, sex, location, hormones, select medications, etc. Here are the top 10 genetic, cultural, and environmental factors that affect weight.
Studies surrounding obesity genetics show that the odds may be stacked against you, thanks to your ancestors. Children born in families with a history of obesity are much more likely to struggle with weight gain than children of lean parents.
However, obesity is not entirely predetermined because what you eat may also influence the expression of those genes. A good example would be a sudden change of diet for migrants, leading to weight gains.
Research shows obesity is also more prevalent in some racial and ethnic groups such as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Additionally, African Americans are more likely to be overweight than their Asian American counterparts.
Culture and Family Habits
It may begin to sound like all weight issues have to do with where you were born, but we promise this is the last subtitle to blame your parents. How does culture affect obesity? Some communities consider extra weight a sign of health and wealth, hence encouraging obesity.
Family eating and lifestyle is another obesity impact factor. Some families consume foods and drinks high in fat, added sugars, and salt, leading to gradual weight gain. Spending much idle time on the screen or prioritising school and homework over physical activity for children could also be risky.
Obesity is more prevalent in black and Hispanic women than black and hispanic men in the US. What’s more, sex may influence where fat goes in the body. Men are often affected by belly fat, while the extra fat in women primarily builds up around the hips and buttocks.
Unfortunately, fat accumulation, especially in the abdomen, may put your health at risk even if your body mass index (BMI) is standard.
We generally gain weight as we age, starting in young adulthood up to ages 60-65. Evidence suggests that overweight children have a higher obesity risk in adulthood. Additionally, although only 30% of adult obesity starts from childhood, 70% of it begins during adolescence and has been linked to increased risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, colorectal cancer, and early mortality in men.
Several drugs intended for medical use can have the side effect of weight gain. The following drugs may alter the function of your body by increasing appetite or reducing metabolic rates:
- Antidepressants: amitriptyline, imipramine, escitalopram, mirtazapine, paroxetine, and sertraline
- Diabetes medication: insulin, sulfonylureas, and thiazolidinediones
- Antipsychotics such as clozapine, haloperidol, olanzapine, lithium, risperidone, and quetiapine
- Blood pressure-reducing medication: beta-blockers such as metoprolol and propranolol
- Epilepsy medicines: divalproex, gabapentin, valproate, and carbamazepine
- Steroid hormone medications such as birth control pills and prednisone.
Where You Live and Work
Your location may affect your eating and physical activity patterns as well as access to healthy meals and places to exercise. For instance, you will have higher chances of consuming quality, low-calorie foods if you live in a neighbourhood with many grocery stores.
On the flip side, living or working in a place packed with vending machines, cafeterias, and many unhealthy, lower-calorie foods may limit your healthy options. Socioeconomic status and obesity are also linked, given that some people can’t afford to eat healthily.
The same goes for people in regional and rural areas. They have to put up with higher food prices, lower availability of fruits/ vegetables, and fewer indoor gyms as well as sporting grounds.
Engineered Junk Foods
Our food supplies and range of options have increased significantly over the years. However, so have cheap, engineered junk foods full of added sugars. The aggressive marketing campaigns that these companies launch do not help either. They also target children who are now being diagnosed with insulin resistance long before they are mature enough to make a better judgement.
Although the role of hormones such as insulin remains controversial, research has linked high insulin levels to obesity. This issue is worsened by the Western diet that promotes insulin resistance in many overweight and obese people.
Leptin resistance is another problem that may tank your weight loss effort. This hormone helps regulate appetite but may malfunction in people with obesity. Leptin resistance is considered the main cause of obesity caused by hormones.
Diet, Exercise, and Sleep Patterns
Consuming foods and beverages high in sugar, calories, fat, and added sugars is not suitable for your weight, but you already know that. Also, spending much time sitting or lying down and doing limited physical activities may contribute to the health risks of being overweight.
On the other hand, sleep deprivation has been linked to overeating and weight gain. A lack of sleep could also be a sign of a weak immune system – sleep and the immune system have a bidirectional relationship.
Thankfully you can always go for immune-supporting supplements to not only help you stay disease free but also break the frustrating sleep deprivation-overeating-weight gain cycle.
If you thought only drugs could get you addicted, think again. Many sugar-sweetened junk foods with high-fat content stimulate your brain’s reward system, much like alcohol, cocaine, cannabis, nicotine, and the other culprits. Evidence shows that susceptible individuals can become addicted to junk foods and lose control over their eating habits.
Although so many risk factors of obesity and weight gain may be out of your immediate control, this is no excuse to stop eating healthy, exercising, and dieting. However, it helps to know that weight issues are more than meets the eye as shown by these factors. That said, consider talking to your physician in case you feel worried about your weight.