What are the cultural and emotional causes of obesity?

The Western Lifestyle
The Western lifestyle plays a major role in obesity. The effect of Western culture can be demonstrated by the fact that adolescent obesity increases dramatically among second- and third-generation immigrants to the US as they adopt the American diet and lifestyle. A number of factors are involved:

  • Enough food is produced in the US to supply 3,800 calories every day to each man, woman, and child, far more than any single person needs to sustain life. Such food has to be marketed and sold. In spite of the proven health risks of obesity, the government, insurance companies, and the medical profession spend very little money to oppose the billions of dollars that the food industry spends to promote food products.  
  • The Western diet typically supplies more than 30% of its calories from fat. Sugar is also a problem.  
  • Both leisure and working time are increasingly sedentary as people move from one seated position to another in their use of the automobile, the television, video games, and the computer.  
  • As more couples work and income levels rise, many people choose the convenience of fast food, dining out, and packaged foods in place of preparing a meal. In one study, men who ate outside the home were heavier than those who ate at home. Greater weight in women was associated with eating fast foods but not restaurant cooking. These foods tend to be served in larger portions and generally contain more calories and fat and less ingredients of nutritional value than homemade meals.

Stress and Mood Disorders
Stress. An interesting 2000 study has linked stress to the accumulation of abdominal fat. According to the study, both thin and overweight women who were vulnerable to stress and reportedly had more stress in their daily lives had waist-hip ratios indicative of fat storage at the waist. The study was limited to Caucasian Americans and warrants further investigation.

Seasonal Affective Disorder. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is depression that occurs during winter months. Patients with SAD also tend to gain weight during the winter. (Both conditions may be treated effectively with light therapy.)

Provided by ArmMed Media
Revision date: June 18, 2011
Last revised: by Janet A. Staessen, MD, PhD