causes of obesity

100+ Putative Causes Of Obesity – Take Your Pick

November 29, 2021

Putative Causes Of Obesity: Listening to (or reading the bestsellers written by) pundits, one may easily think that the entire obesity problem can be brought down to a couple of factors – sugar-sweetened beverages, fast food, being sedentary, screen-time, – take your pick.

Now, Morgan Downey, former CEO of the Obesity Society on his blog – the Downey Obesity Report – provides an update of previous lists of putative causes of obesity – a list that now includes 104 items.

As he is careful to point out, “The links are not meant to be definitive or best study but merely a demonstration of the interest in the particular cause.”
~ Morgan Downey, former CEO of the Obesity Society

Given that many of these factors are implicated based largely on observational studies, which by their very nature cannot prove causality, some skepticism is in order.

However, for many factors on this list, there is the biological plausibility, often backed by findings from animal or experimental studies.

Here is Downey’s list of putative causes of obesity:

1. agricultural policies,
2. air conditioning,
3. air pollution,
4. antibiotic usage at an early age,
5. arcea nut chewing,
6. artificial sweeteners,
7. Asian tiger mosquitos,
8. assortative mating,
9. being a single mother,
10. birth by C-section,
11. built environment,
12. celebrity chefs,
13. chemical toxins, (endocrine disruptors)
14. child maltreatment,
15. compulsive buying,
16. competitive food sales in schools,
17. consuming skim milk in preschool children,
18. consumption of pastries and chocolate (in Burkina Faso),
19. a decline in occupational physical activity,
20. delayed prenatal care,
21. delayed satiety,
22. depression
23. driving children to school
24. eating away from home
25. economic development (nutrition transition)
26. entering into a romantic relationship,
27. epigenetic factors,
28. eradication of Helicobacter pylori,
29. family conflict,
30. family divorce,
31. first-born in family,
32. food addiction,
33. food deserts,
34. food insecurity,
35. food marketing to children,
36. food overproduction,
37. friends,
38. genetics,
39. gestational diabetes,
40. global food system,(international trade policies)
41. grilled foods,
42. gut microbiota,
43. having children, for women,
44. heavy alcohol consumption,
45. home labor-saving devices,
46. hormones (insulin,glucagon,ghrelin),
47. hunger-response to food cues,
48. high fructose corn syrup,
49. interpersonal violence,
50. lack of family meals,
51. lack of nutritional education,
52. lack of self-control,
53. large portion sizes,
54. living in crime-prone areas,
55. low educational levels for women,
56. low levels of physical activity,
57. low Vitamin D levels,
58. low socioeconomic status,
59. market economy,
60. marrying in later life
61. maternal employment,
62. maternal obesity,
63. maternal over-nutrition during pregnancy,
64. maternal smoking,
65. meat consumption,
66. menopause,
67. mental disabilities,
68. no or short term breastfeeding,
69. non-parental childcare
70. outdoor advertising,
71. overeating,
72. participation in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly Food Stamp Program)
73. perceived weight discrimination,
74. perception of neighborhood safety,
75. physical disabilities,
76. prenatal maternal exposure to natural disasters,
77. poor emotional coping
78. sleep deficits,
79. skipping breakfast,
80. snacking,
81. smoking cessation,
82. spanking children,
83. stair design
84. stress, artificial lighting, air conditioning,
85. sugar-sweetened beverages,
86. taste for fat,
87. trans fats,
88. transportation by car,
89. the television set in bedrooms,
90. television viewing,
91. thyroid dysfunction,
92. vending machines,
93. virus,
94. weight gain inducing drugs,
95. working long hours,
96. NEW too much homework,
97. NEW insufficient body heat,
98. NEW imagining the smell of food,
99. NEW dust components,
100. NEW living with grandparents in China,
101. NEW estrogens,
102. NEW thermogenic adipocytes,
103. NEW prenatal exposure to cigarette smoke,
104. NEW starting college.

For links to references for each of these putative causes, visit the Downey Obesity Report.

Shared with the permission of Dr. Sharma

causes of obesity


Arya M. Sharma, MD/PhD, DSc(hon), FRCPC, is Professor of Medicine & Chair in Obesity Research and Management at the University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada. He is also the Medical Director of the Alberta Health Services Obesity Program. Dr. Sharma is founder and Scientific Director of the Canadian Obesity Network. Read more articles by Dr. Sharma!