Obesity and Overweight: Causes, Risk Factors and Prevention

Obese, overweight women

What is Obesity and Overweight?

Obesity and overweight is one of the greatest health concerns and a major health issue in the United States. The United States has the highest number of people living with obesity in the world [1]. Obesity and overweight is an epidemic that costs the United States billions of dollars yearly.

Obesity and overweight are a thing to be very concerned about because they increase a person’s risk of serious, chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, and some types of cancer; diseases which are one of the leading causes of premature death.

The reason the United States has the highest prevalence of overweight and obesity is not far from unhealthy eating habit and a sedentary lifestyle. Being a highly urbanized environment, getting physically active is harder than imagined. Before we consider causes of obesity and overweight, let’s take a look at some facts on this epidemic in the United States.

Facts on Obesity and Overweight in the United States

  • It is estimated that by the year 2020, ¾ of the American population will be obese or overweight
  • The United States spends about $147 billion every year on obesity and overweight, and this amount is expected to increase by $1.24 billion per year until the year 2030 [1]
  • About 100,000-400,000 deaths every year in the United States are related to obesity
  • It is estimated that 50% of all teenagers and one-third of children between 6 and 11 years in the United States will be obese or overweight by 2030 [2]

Difference Between Obesity and Overweight

obese man measuring his waist circumference

Obesity and overweight are often used interchangeably but they do not mean the same thing, although they have something in common. Obesity and overweight both refer to excess body weight. The term “excess body weight” is relative. You are said to have an excess body weight if what you weigh on the scale does not fall in the range of what is considered normal for your height.

The difference between obesity and overweight lies in the cause of the excess body weight. A person is obese mostly due to excess body fat. On the other hand, overweight may be caused by extra water, bones or muscles, as well as excess fat. The body mass index (BMI) is used to determine whether a person has a normal weight, is overweight or obese.

Obesity and Overweight Risk Factors

Millions of people around the world are obese and overweight. This also includes children. Just about anybody can be obese or overweight, but the presence of certain factors increases a person’s chance. These factors include:


A person’s gender may increase a person’s chance of obesity or overweight. Generally, a woman is more likely than a man to have obesity. On the other hand, a man is more likely than a woman to have overweight.


Obesity can be inherited. If either of your parents is obese, your likelihood of having obesity is higher than that of someone who does not have a parent with obesity.

Educational and Socio-Economic Status

A relationship has been established between educational and socio-economic status and these two health conditions. It is found that people who are less educated are more likely to have obesity and overweight than people of a higher educational level. In the same way, a person of a lower socio-economic status has a greater likelihood of obesity and overweight than a person of a higher socio-economic status.

Causes of Obesity and Overweight

Overweight man checking his waist circumference

The major cause of obesity and overweight is an energy imbalance between the calories you consume from the foods and drinks you take, and the calories that you use up in physical activity. When your energy intake is higher than your energy output, and this trend becomes consistent, whether or not you’d become obese or overweight is only a question of time.

Why would we feed our bodies with calories it can’t handle? There are so many reasons this may happen. Nobody really intends to consume more calories than their body needs, but it happens anyway. Some of the factors responsible for this energy imbalance are:

Overconsumption of Foods High in Sugar and Fat

These foods are everywhere; they are easily accessible and they do not really cost much. Thanks to fast food, you do not need to cook before you can eat. What this means is that it’s possible for you to go several days, weeks or perhaps months without ever needing to use the kitchen for cooking.

Unfortunately, these junk foods are very high in sugar and fat. Excess sugar and fat are stored in your body, and with time, an imbalance is created where your body has more energy than it requires. Other effects of junk foods are increased risk of cancer, type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

Inadequate Physical Activity

The foods and drinks that you consume are converted into energy that your body uses. Just how much food you need depends on how physically active you are and not how hungry you feel. When you eat more than you are physically active, you also create an energy imbalance.

Lack of Adequate Sleep

The benefits of sleep are numerous, and as an adult, you need at least 7 hours of uninterrupted sleep every night for your body to function at its best. Sleep deprivation has been linked to an increased risk of obesity and overweight. There is also a direct relationship between your quality of sleep and your eating habits.

One of the effects of sleep deprivation is that it hinders your ability to make good decisions. This is because sleep greatly impacts the function of the brain. You’d also be more tired and perhaps moodier than usual. You are likely to opt for a fast food than cook, you are likely to eat more than you should and you are not likely to exercise when you are tired and moody.

Obesity and Overweight Prevention

Since it has been identified that the major cause of obesity and overweight is energy imbalance between calories consumed and calories used up, to prevent these conditions therefore, what you need to do is to make sure that there is always a balance. How do you make this happen?

  • Find out your BMI
  • Ensure that most of the foods that you eat are home-cooked meals. Cooking can be very interesting and fun. By finding out healthy recipes, you would not be stuck with preparing your food the same way each time
  • Limit your intake of foods like fried chicken and processed meats that are high in saturated fat and replace them with healthy fats. Types of healthy fats include omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids
  • Include more of fresh, organic foods in your cooking
  • Serve your meals in small plates.This will prevent you from eating too much. If you are a large-eater, this is a trick to stop overeating
  • Cut down on sweetened drinks or stop taking them altogether. Sweetened drinks are drinks that contain sweeteners like sugar, molasses, fructose, lactose, sucrose, syrup and honey. One of the benefits of reducing sugar intake is better sleep
  • Educate yourself on how to understand nutritional information on foods and drinks
  • Track your calorie intake. There are apps online that help with tracking calories. These apps will help you determine how much food you need based on your level of physical activity
  • Exercise daily
  • Get adequate sleep daily

In Conclusion

The negative effects of obesity and overweight are overreaching, and you have no reason to allow them. It is important for you to have and maintain a healthy body weight because it gives you a chance to a healthier, happier and longer life. Now, who doesn’t want that?


[1] Wikipedia, ‘Obesity in the United States’. Accessed on 26th January 2019, [Online]. Available: https://www.en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Obesity-in-the-United-States.

[2] Webmd, ‘U.S. Obesity Rates Rising Again’. Accessed on 26th January 2019, [Online]. Available: https://www.webmd.com/diet/obesity/news/20180612/us-obesity-rates-rising-again.