Factors Contributing to Overweight and Obesity

Obesity is a complex condition with biological, genetic, behavioral, social, cultural, and environmental influences (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services [USDHHS], 2001).  However, the current high rates of overweight and obesity among children and adults in the U.S. are primarily a result of individual behaviors and environmental factors that lead to excess caloric intake and inadequate amounts of physical activity (USDHHS, 2001; USDHHS, 2003).  Examples of such individual behaviors and environmental factors are provided below.  These factors affect most Americans, at least to some extent, but people who are food insecure and/or low-income face additional challenges and risks, as addressed elsewhere on this web-site (see the section on Why Low-Income and Food Insecure People are Vulnerable to Overweight and Obesity).

Factors Contributing to Excess Caloric Intake

  • Increased consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages (Duffey & Popkin, 2007; Nielsen et al., 2002)
  • Increased snacking (Duffey & Popkin, 2011; Jahns et al., 2001; Zizza et al., 2001)
  • Larger portion sizes (Piernas & Popkin, 2011; Young & Nestle, 2002; Young & Nestle, 2003)
  • Higher calorie-density of foods (Kant & Graubard, 2006)
  • More meals consumed or purchased away from home (Kant & Graubard, 2004)
  • More exposure to advertising that encourages food consumption and promotes unhealthy foods (French et al., 2001; Powell et al., 2011)
  • Value-sizing of less nutritious foods (e.g., value meals at fast food outlets) (French et al., 2001; French, 2005)

Factors Contributing to Inadequate Amounts of Physical Activity

  • Labor-saving technological advances (e.g., computers) (Sallis & Glanz, 2009)
  • Increased media use (e.g., television, video games) (French et al., 2001)
  • Automobile-oriented communities and reliance on motorized transportation (Sallis & Glanz, 2009)
  • Limited access to safe, convenient recreation facilities or walking areas (French et al., 2001)
  • Limited opportunities for activity during the workday (French et al., 2001)
  • Limited time for daily physical education and recess in schools (Lee et al., 2007)