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The #1 Cause of Your Obesity, Says Science

Doctor reveals the leading causes of obesity 

Obesity has been a longstanding problem in the U.S. and it's getting worse. According to a report conducted by Trust for America's Health, obesity is up. In 2020, 16 states had adult obesity rates at or above 35%, up from 12 states the previous year, the data reveals. There are several reasons for obesity and Eat This, Not That! Health talked to Dr, Megan Mescher-Cox, DO, Board Certified in Internal Medicine, Lifestyle Medicine and Obesity Medicine with Dignity Health Medical Group who explained what the top causes of obesity are. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


Intake of Ultra-Processed Foods

woman in furry sweater reaching into clear glass bowl to grab potato chip while laptop sits in background
Shutterstock / Olha Pylypenko

Consuming too much unhealthy food is one of the leading causes of obesity, says Dr. Cox. "This includes 'junk food' such as cookies and chips but also crackers, refined grains such as white flour, white bread, etc. These foods are devoid of nutrients and fiber and very high in calories. People are starting to trend more towards plant-based diets which are very healthful if it is a whole-food plant-based diet but don't be fooled – the plant-based meat alternatives that are sold are more appropriately called 'processed foods' than healthful foods and will also contribute to weight gain."


Intake of High-Calorie, Low-Fiber Foods

Pouring orange juice

Dr. Cox explains, "This is slightly different from the above because certain foods are somewhat 'natural' but are high-calorie and low-fiber and still contribute to obesity. A great example is fruit juice. It has had the fiber removed from it so it is concentrated sugar and although natural sugar, since no longer in its natural form it can now be overconsumed and contribute to weight gain."


Not Enough Fruits and Vegetables


According to Dr. Cox, "Eating healthy foods is just as important as avoiding unhealthful foods. Higher levels of fruit and vegetable intake is consistently associated with healthful body weight. A great way to work towards health is to increase the amount of fruit and vegetables (especially vegetables if our goal is weight loss). The goal is for a minimum of HALF a person's intake of food to be from fruits and vegetables."


Sedentary Lifestyle

Two women sitting by desk in front of laptops.

Staying active is vital to staying healthy and fit. "Regular exercise has been well known to regulate weight and a goal of 30 minutes at least five times weekly is helpful to avoid Obesity or other medical conditions but it is just as important to avoid a sedentary lifestyle," Dr. Cox states. "Sitting for long periods of time throughout the day – even if someone exercises – is an independent risk factor for medical conditions."


Lack of Sleep

Sad Woman Lying On Bed

"Obesity is consistently associated with lack of sleep or an excess of sleep," Dr. Cox says. "Many factors contribute to this including hormonal shifts with sleep deprivation that make it harder to lose weight, an increase in cravings and intake for high calorie foods if someone is sleep deprived, and lower levels of 'self regulation', or someone's ability to say no to an unhealthy option, with sleep deprivation. A goal of 7-9 hours of sleep nightly, typically 7.5 hours is where we see the most normal weights."



Colorful DNA molecule

While there are many causes of obesity we can control, genetics is something we can't. According to Dr. Cox, "There are genetic factors that play a role in someone's weight. I usually discuss this with patients in the same fashion that we discuss other genetic risk factors: if we know that a person is at above-average risk for a medical condition, it is even more important that we address the modifiable risk factors to optimize their health. This is the same as if a person is at increased risk for heart disease or dementia." And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Heather Newgen
Heather Newgen has two decades of experience reporting and writing about health, fitness, entertainment and travel. Heather currently freelances for several publications. Read more about Heather
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