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  • Writer's pictureNicola Stanisławska

Are the causes of obesity more mental or physical?

Cosmetic concern or complex disease, the obesity epidemic has struck the modern world and is continuing to cause struggles for those who are victim to it. From its staggering triplication worldwide since 1975, many ask themselves if obesity is simply a result of an excessive intake in calories and lacking physical activity or whether it is more complicated and lies beneath its previously considered causes and is a result of one’s mental struggles and psychological disorders. The aim of this essay is to review the causes of the disease and reach a conclusion to what causes obesity. Obesity can be caused by physical factors including environmental, genetic and drug intake factors. Commonly, obesity is considered to be caused by the imbalance of calorie consumption which occurs when one intakes more calories than their body burns, yet there are other physical factors that play a role in its development. The environment in which one functions can have an impact on their daily physical activity and diet impacting their weight. For example, if one is forced to use vehicle transport because of one’s excessive distance to their workplace or the climate they live in, they are forced to cut short on their possible daily workout. One’s chosen habitat or community can subconsciously have an influence on their daily routines and health. The scale of this problem can be seen most clearly in communities that are transitioning from their traditional lifestyles into different lifestyles. According to, “Societies that are transitioning to westernized lifestyles are experiencing substantial increases in its prevalence”. This is largely caused by the sudden change of food habits and traditions that come with these cultures that are unhealthy and cause drastic changes in the habits of people that their bodies cannot adapt to fast enough. Another potential factor that can impact the development of the disease are genetics. Some prepossessed genetic mutations or disorders can cause one to be more prone to develop obesity during their lifetime. The article “Obesity and Genetics: Nature and Nurture” on states, “recent studies suggest that genetics contribute to 40-70% of obesity with the discovery of more than 50 genes that are strongly associated with obesity”. Disorders that have an influence on obesity include Bardet-biel syndrome and Prader-willi syndrome. Moreover, another factor that can be associated with obesity is the intake of drugs or steroids. “Weight gain was the most commonly reported adverse effect of steroid use, affecting 70 percent of those prescribed the drugs”, states an article on steroids and weight gain by Donna Christano. One’s medical conditions that cause them to intake drugs such as steroids or antidepressants can also lead to a disruption of cellular respiration which influences weight gain. To summarise, physical factors such as the environment, genetic prepossessed genetic mutations as well as drug/ steroid intake play a major role in the development of obesity. Individuals who suffer from psychological disorders are more prone to have a disruptive relationship with food that can lead to obesity. A research conducted by Arch Gen Psychiatry published in 2006 whose objective was to suggest an association between obesity and depression showed that “nearly one quarter of cases of obesity in the general population are attributable to the association with mood disorder”. In the case of anxiety and depression, many people use foods as a coping mechanism, intaking unnecessary amounts when struggling with their emotions. If one struggles with mood disturbances, turning to food as a coping mechanism becomes common. Many possess “comfort foods” which provide them with a sense of stability. The inability to control one’s emotions or stress can lead to an unhealthy cycle of food consumption that one cannot easily stop. This may be reenforced when these individuals also struggle with physical factors or find themselves in a stressful environment. Some disorders have a direct influence on one’s food intake, these are referred to as eating disorders (EDs). Examples of these are Binge Eating Disorder (BED) and Night Eating Syndrome (NES), both cause an excessive calorie consumption and problematic eating behaviours which can cause an irregular eating pattern and excessive eating. BED is estimated to occur in approximately 2% of the general population and between 10% and 25% of the bariatric population (Collins and Bentz, 2009, p. 124). This imbalance increases the probability of extreme weight and often obesity. In conclusion, obesity can be caused by psychological problems that encourage unhealthy leading habits that increase the probability of obesity developing in the individuals who posses these. In my opinion, obesity is a result of a combination of both physical, psychological factors and the result of the capitalistic morals and actions of the food industry. A journal written by Collins and Bentz on “Behavioural and Psychological factors in obesity” explains, “In many obese individuals there appears to be a perpetual cycle of mood disturbance, overeating, and weight gain. (…) This pattern is particularly applicable if there is a genetic predisposition for obesity or a “toxic” environment in which calorically dense foods are readily available and physical activity is limited.” This quote shows the correlation between physical factors of obesity such as a genetic predisposition, environmental influence, physical activity, and the cycle of psychological disorders. If an individual leads a sedentary lifestyle, possess a genetic predisposition as well as a mental disorder, they are more likely to become obese than in the possession of only one of these factors. Additionally, I believe that the cause of obesity is the capitalistic mindset that mayor food producing companies poses, that leads to actions carried out specifically to increase their revenue. As of 2021, 42.4% of Americans are obese. A study conducted by a group of researchers at the University of North Carolina in which a survey of package foods and drinks that were purchased in American stores showed that 60% of them include added sugars (New York Times, 2016). Another research conducted on rats suggested that sugar is more addictive than opioid drugs such as cocaine, often causing withdrawal symptoms when individuals stop its consumption (New Hall Hospital, 2017). The food industry is continuously inventing ways to addict their customers to their products increasing their revenue. This means is that not only are individuals in the US consuming products with added sugar subconsciously causing them to gain weight, but also become addicted to these products which in extreme cases or when conjoined with a genetic predisposition, sedentary lifestyle or psychological disorder can lead to obesity. Unfortunately, as society progresses and the westernized lifestyle adapts in more places in the world, this becomes a common problem.

In conclusion, the obesity epidemic can be found to be caused by both physical and mental factors, yet for its development, in most cases individuals will poses a combination of factors. But the question of whether obesity is caused by physical or mental factors is oversimplified and not accurate; in modern society, the disease is no longer caused by human actions or organisms and can be blamed on third party individuals who control the food industry and our consumption, addicting many to an unhealthy lifestyle to increase profit.


  1. Simon, G. E., Von Korff, M., Saunders, K., Miglioretti, D. L., Crane, P. K., van Belle, G., & Kessler, R. C. (2006, July). Association between obesity and psychiatric disorders in the US adult population. Archives of general psychiatry.

  2. Christiano, D. (2018, June 21). Do steroids make you gain weight? Plus how to avoid it. Healthline.

  3. Collins, J. C., Bentz, J. E., (2009) Behavioral And Psychological Factors In Obesity

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018, January 19). Behavior, environment, and genetic factors all have a role in causing people to be overweight and obese. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020, August 17). Other factors in weight gain. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

  6. JP;, P. W. S. F. (1999, October). Obesity is an environmental issue. Atherosclerosis.

  7. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021, June 7). Adult obesity facts. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

  8. Guerra, J. (2019, February 14). What happens to your body and brain when you stop eating sugar. Insider.

  9. Sanger-katz, M. (2016, May 21). You'd be surprised at how many foods contain added sugar. The New York Times.

  10. Ramsay Healthcare. (2017, September 20). Is sugar more addictive than cocaine. Ramsay Healthcare.


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