Which factors lead to obesity?

Marjorie Nolan Cohn
Nutrition & Dietetics

Binge eating is when someone consumes a very large number of calories in an episode of binging. Constant episodes of compulsive overeating may lead to a person becoming overweight or even obese, although there are individuals who still maintain a normal weight. Over time, compulsive eating or bingeing usually leads to weight gain. The most common type of food that bingers turn to during binges is “junk food,” or food that is high in empty calories, carbohydrates, fat and sugar. During a typical binge, the average person can consume as many as many as 2,000 to 3,000 calories. A single binge can be as much as 20,000 calories. This frequent consumption of massive amounts of calories inevitably leads to weight gain.

While there are clear health risks to being overweight or obese, the solution most often proposed—diet and weight loss—oversimplifies complex realities. We live in a world where highly processed, refined foods are cheap and readily available. Processed foods are far more profitable to the food industry than whole, unprocessed foods, and advertisements incessantly push fast food, soft drinks, and other high-calorie, low-quality products. The government subsidizes the production of grains, including corn and wheat, which are used primarily to make corn sweeteners and refined carbohydrates, but not far healthier foods such as fruits, vegetables, beans, and nuts, creating artificially low prices for the foods that are the worst for us.

In addition, people's exercise and activity levels have radically declined. Changing technologies and lifestyles mean that fewer people engage in sustained physical activities. Television, computers, the lack of public safety in cities, suburban sprawl, and cuts in physical education programs in schools mean that many of us spend the vast majority of our days sitting. This is in stark contrast to only 50 years ago, when most labor was manual and the chores of everyday living demanded that people moved their bodies throughout the day. These factors, along with other economic realities and food politics, have translated into greater numbers of overweight or obese people. In 1980, just under half of U.S. adults were overweight; by 2000, this figure had jumped to 64.5 percent. Dieting is a big industry in North America, with estimated annual revenues of $35 to $50 billion. Many of us struggle endlessly with our weight. Yet this chronic dieting has not slowed the rise in the number of Americans classified as overweight or obese. Dieting is notoriously unsuccessful at producing substantial long-term weight loss: the majority of people who lose weight regain it within five years. In addition, preoccupation with thinness and dieting are risk factors for the development of serious eating disorders.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.