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Precipitating Factors of Obesity

Obesity is a medical condition characterised by excessive weight. In adults, a BMI (body mass index) of 30 or more indicates obesity and it is estimated that up to 1 in 4 people are obese in the UK, making it a very common issue. However, if left untreated, obesity can lead to various health complications, including type 2 diabetes, heart problems, some types of cancer, and an increased risk of having a stroke. Moreover, obesity can negatively affect mental health and lead to low self-esteem issues, anxiety and depression, feelings of guilt and disgust and a poor relationship with food. If you think you are experiencing issues related to obesity, it is important to seek the support you need.

Precipitating factors of obesity relate to specific factors which trigger or contribute to the onset of obesity. Some individuals may already be predisposed to certain precipitating factors, while other triggers are influenced by lifestyle choices. It’s important to remember that weight-related issues are not a “one-size-fits-all” and experiences are different for each individual. Obesity is a complex disease which is likely to be triggered by a multitude of different factors. In this blog post, there will be a discussion of the more common precipitating factors which lead to obesity.


One of the most common and obvious precipitating factors for obesity is consuming more calories than what the person is burning off. In particular, foods that are high in fat and sugar, or are highly processed are likely to lead to weight gain if they are consumed in excess.  However, a person whose diet consists largely of fruit and vegetables can still gain weight if they overeat, so it’s useful to find a comfortable and balanced diet to encourage a healthy lifestyle. 

Leading a sedentary lifestyle along with more than your daily recommended calorie consumption can also lead to weight gain. The amount of physical activity that you’re doing throughout the day has a significant impact on how your body chooses to process food. A sedentary lifestyle can include working in an office environment/sitting at a desk for extended periods of time (opposed to manual labour), choosing to travel short distances in a car rather than walking, or spending a lot of time on the sofa or in bed. A sedentary lifestyle can consequently snowball into a vicious cycle of weight gain – a lack of activity may cause you to gain some weight, and over time it can become increasingly difficult to engage in any physical activity without experiencing pain or discomfort. 

Sleep is an important restorative function for the health of your brain and body. However, sleep deprivation and poor sleep quality has been found to be linked to weight gain. Sleep deprived people may become too tired to exercise, consume more calories as they are awake long enough to do so, or have hormone imbalances which result in an increased appetite. 

There are also other social and environmental factors which precipitate the onset of obesity but  aren’t directly influenced by the individual. For instance, a low socioeconomic status (community deprivation, low household income and food insecurity), geographical location (living in a rural community with a lack of access to high quality foods), a lack of education/poor knowledge surrounding nutrition, or an inability to cook healthy meals for oneself can all be contributing factors for obesity. 


Some underlying health conditions, such as an underactive thyroid and polycystic ovary syndrome can lead to a greater risk of developing obesity. However, it is possible to manage weight gain effectively if certain health conditions are controlled with medications.

However, there are certain types of medications which have a side-effect of weight gain, including some antidepressants and mood stabilisers, as well as some hormone contraceptives to name a few. 

While taking medication is important for managing health-related issues, some can stimulate appetite, while others influence metabolism and the body’s ability to store energy. However, weight gain on medication varies from person to person.

There is some evidence to suggest that genetics play a role in the onset of weight gain, however with the complexity of obesity it is unlikely that genetics alone are a precipitating factor.

Psychological Factors:

Low mood or depression can lead to some people using comfort eating as a way to cope. Other mental health issues such as binge eating disorder (BED), which is characterised by compulsive eating, a loss of control around food and low mood, can also lead to obesity. BED is accompanied by a disordered relationship around food and a desperate need to fill a deep emotional wound. BED is more than simply overeating – it is a mental health struggle which leads to serious physical health complications. 

To conclude, obesity is a complicated health issue which is precipitated by multiple factors. However, the longer a person is obese, the harder it is for them to lose weight. An active and healthy lifestyle can reduce the risk of developing obesity for some people, however, those with underlying medical or mental health issues may find it harder to maintain a healthy weight. 

If you have been affected by the things mentioned in this blog, please seek help. Here at Breathe Therapies, we have an obesity management programme with a stepped care approach. To find out more about the programme please click here.

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