The Putative 82 Causes of Obesity

February 28th, 2013 by MorganDowney Leave a reply »

I’ve been keeping track of the putative causes of obesity. I am now up to 82. I don’t allege they are all correct. But they do exist in the scientific or popular literature, usually both. The links will not take you to a definitive study but only to an example of the debate going on in that area. So, the questions are: 1. If a disease (condition) has 82 possible causes, can anyone say we know what THE CAUSE is? 2. Can all these putative causes be correct? In other words, can a diverse collection of events trigger a perturbation in the system to cause obesity? Alternatively, since each putative cause has some individuals with exposure who do not develop obesity, is there some kind of “master switch” which has to be tripped to cause excess adipose tissue accumulation? What possible prevention strategy could account for all these variables? Curious minds want to know.

1. agricultural policies

2. air conditioning,

3. air pollution,

4. antibiotic usage at early age

5. arcea nut chewing,

6. assortative mating,

7. being a single mother,

8. birth by C-section,

9. built environment,

10. chemical toxins,

11. child maltreatment,

12. competitive food sales in schools,

13. consumption of pastries and chocolate (in Burkina Faso),

14. decline in occupational physical activity,

15. delayed prenatal care,

16. delayed satiety,

17. depression

18. driving children to school

19. eating away from home

20. economic development

21. endocrine disruptors,

22. entering into a romantic relationship,

23. epigenetic factors,

24. family conflict,

25. first-born in family

26. food addiction

27. food deserts

28. food insecurity,

29. food marketing to  children

30. food overproduction

31. friends

32. genetics,

33. gestational diabetes,

34. global food system,

35. grilled foods

36. gut microbioata,

37. having children, for women,

38. heavy alcohol consumption,

39. home labor saving devices,

40. hunger-response to food cues,

41. international trade policies (globalization)

42. high fructose corn syrup,

43. lack of family meals,

44. lack of nutritional education,

45. lack of self-control,

46. large portion sizes,

47. living in the suburbs,

48. living in crime-prone areas,

49. low levels of physical activity,

50. low socioeconomic status,

51. market economy,

52. marrying in later life

53. maternal employment,

54. maternal obesity,

55. maternal over-nutrition during pregnancy,

56. maternal smoking,

57. meat consumption,

58. menopause,

59. mental disabilities,

60. no or short term breastfeeding,

61. non-parental childcare

62. overeating,

63. participation in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly Food Stamp Program)

64. perception of neighborhood safety,

65. physical disabilities,

66. prenatal  maternal exposure to natural disasters,

67. poor emotional coping

68. sleep deficits,

69. skipping breakfast,

70. snacking,

71. smoking cessation,

72. stair design

73. stress

74. sugar-sweetened beverages,

75. trans fats,

76. transportation policies,

77. television set in bedrooms

78. television viewing,

79. thyroid dysfunction

80. vending machines,

81. virus

82. weight gain inducing drugs.



  1. Lori Hogenkamp from "The Meal Matters Most" says:

    Great infographic! What I’ve come to understand about our metabolic dilemmas is that the center of the universe you have there, calories and energy homeostasis, is not really the center of the universe as we might assume. The issues, the center of the universe is actually stress or stress communication. Not “I’m annoyed by something” stress as we tend to think of it, but stress dynamics in how we respond to challenges and the resources we have for those challenges. Stress is about communication patterns built to protect and balance our systems. So those 82 “causes” embody modes of stress impacting our balances. Things that throw the system out of balance and cause it to seek more resources, or store more resources. Junk foods stresses us out metabolically. Lack of microbiota stresses us out. Lack of vitamin D stress us out. This is typically seen in immune functioning and inflammation. Prenatal stress programs us to sense stress at lower levels. Pollutants create stress, endocrine disruptors impact estrogen sensitivity, estrogen is an orchestrator of stress responses. It’ pretty much all stress, gene-environment interactions, programming and adjustments to attempt to protect us from excessive stress. So we have to look at why we don’t understand stress as we should (limited linear perspective). Why do we have so much, Where did we go wrong and How do we address it.

  2. Stuart says:

    What a very comprehensive list of obesity causes.

  3. Beth@WeightMaven says:

    Do you include fluoride in with the chemical toxins? I was filling my cat’s water bowl yesterday and it made me wonder about whether there’s a link there with pet and/or human obesity.

  4. Pamela Grenfell Smith says:

    Dr. Downey, I think perhaps you missed INTERIOR DECOR:


    So i’m making it 84. Great list – thanks!

  5. Leoluca Criscione says:

    Nr 0 (ZERO)
    the RESTING METABOLIC RATE and its influence on the Personal Daily Energy (CALORIES) Expenditure!!!!
    see the details

    Once a person knows her/his own metabilic rate, she/he will be able to determine the Personal caloric rquirement!!!
    …thereafter it will be possible to build the OWN PERSONAl EATING PLAN!!
    This graph shows the key role of the RESTING METABOLIC RATE on the daily energy (calories) expenditure!
    See more details in the book: Eating healthy and dying obese….

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