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What Causes Obesity?

Plus Weight-control Tips and Resources

Jan. 14, 2009
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Obesity’s not something that has one simple “cause.” It’s influenced by a number of factors, from the foods you eat to the type and amount of exercise you do to your family’s genetic makeup. Beyond food, fitness and your genes, here are a few of the major culprits in weight gain and loss:

  • Stress: People who are chronically stressed out—including kids—tend to secrete more of a hormone called cortisol, which encourages abdominal fat to build up. Chronic stress is also associated with insulin resistance and “emotional eating”—in other words, snacking when not hungry to deal with anxiety.
  • Sleep: The research is pretty clear: Kids and adults who sleep more tend to weigh less. Those who sleep less than seven hours per night tend to be the heaviest, as do those who wake up during the middle of the night.
  • Safety: According to a recent article in Psychology Today, people who perceive their neighborhoods as dangerous are 1.5 times more likely than average to be overweight, most likely because they’re nervous about spending much time outside.
  • Socioeconomic status: Researchers at Oklahoma State University recently found—as many studies before them have— that there’s a strong link between poverty and obesity. People who have lots of life stressors, particularly worries about making ends meet, are less likely to focus on fitness and nutrition goals if they don’t get much support from their community.

Weight-control Tips

The keys to losing weight are, for the most part, similar whether you’re a kid or an adult. Nearly everyone knows that exercising regularly and limiting calories and fat can go a long way. However, there are tons of other simple tricks you can use to eat and exercise more effectively. Here are a few tips you may not have heard yet, culled from Medical College researchers, TOPS Regional Director Ruth Gielow and the National Weight Control Registry (NWCR):

  • Eat breakfast every day. Research has shown that people who do this—especially kids—feel fuller and eat less throughout the day.
  • Ditch the sweets. Putting healthy foods like apples, carrots, yogurt or even a relish tray at eye level in the fridge and stowing sweets in the produce bin helps you snack smarter.
  • Add small bursts of exercise to your routine. Studies have shown that the pounds start to fall off when people increase their exercise levels to a total of 60 minutes per day. It may not seem that helpful, but adding a few sets of jumping jacks during TV commercials or taking a 10-minute walk after each meal can go a long way toward weight-loss and fitness goals.
  • Buddy up. You’re less likely to replace a workout with a nap or a snack if you’ve promised one or two other people you’ll do it with them.
  • Have a fast-food strategy. Prepare at least a few meals per week at home, which tends to curb calories and offers a great opportunity to get kids interested in nutrition. When you’re on the go, read the nutritional information at fast-food restaurants and try to choose high-protein items and limit starchy and sugary add-ons like french fries and ice cream.
  • Turn off the TV. Limit sedentary activities such as TV-watching and Internet surfing. Whip out Wii Fit or Dance Dance Revolution, go ice skating or sledding, or snowshoe down a local trail. It’ll hardly feel like exercise.

Weight-loss Resources

The National Weight Control Registry: 1-800-606-NWCR, www.nwcr.ws

TOPS: 414-482-4620, www.tops.org

Medical College of Wisconsin’s Metabolic Syndrome Clinic: 414-805-6242, www.mcw.edu/endocrinology/centers/MetabolicCenter.htm


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