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Ask the expert Weight management
Last updated February 3, 2020. 1 minute read

What are the main causes of obesity?

“Today, the average American consumes about 3,000 calories a day but burns less than that. We often eat calorie-dense, nutrient-poor meals, and processed foods that encourage high-calorie intake.”

Richard E. Harris, MD, PharmD

Dr. Richard E. Harris, MD, PharmD, is a board-certified internal medicine physician and board-certified pharmacist in Houston, Texas. He has 15 years of healthcare experience as a personal trainer, pharmacist, and holistic physician.

Reviewed by Tzvi Doron, DO

Q: What can cause obesity?

A. Obesity is a complex disease that can stem from numerous causes. These are the most common.

1) Positive energy balance. This means that we’re consuming more calories than we burn. Today, the average American consumes about 3,000 calories a day but burns less than that. We often eat calorie-dense, nutrient-poor meals, and processed foods that encourage high-calorie intake. These foods are more palatable than whole foods and can be consumed much more quickly and in excessive amounts. Returning to an entire-whole-food nutrition plan can help tip the energy balance equation to the negative and start fat loss.

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2) Lack of exercise. After the age of 30, we lose about 1% of our muscle mass per year. However, if you remain active, you can retain your muscle mass well into advanced age. Studies show that benefits can be had from starting an exercise regimen well into the 50s. Building muscle can help tip you toward positive energy balance, as muscle is a very energy-demanding tissue. The more muscle you have, and the more you utilize that muscle, the more calories you burn.

3) Hormone dysregulation. There are, unfortunately, a lot of things that can disrupt our hormones today. Skin-care products, plastics, and cologne can send hormones out of whack. Hormone dysregulation—especially of testosterone, cortisol, and thyroid hormones—can lead to fat gain and muscle loss.