Causes of Morbid Obesity in Adults

Contributory Factors For Severe Clinical Obesity

Morbid obesity is defined as body mass index (BMI) greater than 40. Since obesity is a disease of excessive body fat – which itself is caused by taking in more calories than are burned – the causes of morbid obesity must include those factors which raise calorie-intake and depress calorie expenditure. Thus eating habits, calorie content of popular foods, and metabolic disorders relating to digestion or food metabolism, are all likely to be contributory risk factors, as well as physical conditions which prevent regular exercise. Other important causes of obesity include genetic factors, disease, use of medications, as well as cultural, socioeconomic and psychosocial factors.

No Evidence of Prime Cause of Morbid Obesity

Although there are several clearly identifiable causes and contributory risk factors for morbid obesity, experts have been unable to pinpoint the relative importance of these risk factors in the ongoing obesity epidemic. The precise hierarchy or sequence of genetic/environmental causes for extreme overweight still eludes us.

Causes of Morbid Obesity in Children and Adolescents

The reasons why children and young teenagers become obese are likely to be more limited than the causes of adult obesity. Thus research into child obesity may provide important clues for excessive fat in adults.

Environmental Causes of Morbid Obesity

Based on my 20+ years of counseling thousands of severe clinically obese individuals, I believe that any list of environmental causes of morbid obesity should include the following:

  • Emotional trauma in childhood, such as the loss of a parent (especially a mother)
  • Emotional trauma in later life, such as the loss of a child
  • Biochemical dependency created by overeating high-GI food
  • Family environment of dieting, causing unnatural fear of food and disordered eating
  • Unbalanced family environment, including parental divorce and other emotional upset

While these causal factors are in no way exhaustive, in my opinion one or more of these factors typically play an important part in creating the environmental conditions in which excessive eating and calorie-intake may lead to severe clinical obesity.


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