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Causes of Obesity: Eating and Social Habits

By Janet Renee ; Updated July 18, 2017

Although it's easy to point toward poor dietary choices and sedentary lifestyles as obvious causes of obesity, they're not the only causes. Other factors, ranging from socioeconomic status to your environment, all shape your risk of obesity, and may affect how easily you can lose weight. Even though you can't necessarily control every factor that affects your weight, you can make lifestyle changes and adjustments to live the healthiest life possible.

Social Ties Influence Weight

Your close social circle influences your risk of obesity, report researchers in a large-scale study published the New England Journal of Medicine published in 2007. They tested a theory that your social circle influences factors such as physical activity and eating habits. For example, if your close social circle engages in physical activity, or healthy eating, you're more likely to do so, too.

The study followed more than 12,000 people over a period of 32 years, and examined the influence of one person's weight gain among her social contacts. They found that having a close friend or spouse who became obese increases your chances of becoming obese by 57 and 37 percent, respectively.

These trends were not seen among neighbors, demonstrating that it's the habits of your close circle social that have the most influence on habits that may increase your risk of developing obesity.

Eating Around Others Influences Eating Habits

People tend to eat more when around others and match their intake to that of their eating companions, according to a systematic review published in the American Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics in 2014. Researchers aren't quite sure why this is so, but they theorize that people have a natural wish to conform to the standards of a group. The authors of the study point to this social influence on eating habits as a factor in weight gain and obesity. Based on their review of published data, they found that who you eat with influences what you choose to eat and how much you consume. This means, if you have friends you frequently eat with and who make poor food choices and eat large portion sizes, chances are you may be inclined to do the same.

Soda Increases Obesity Risk

Aside from your social group, some of your own eating habits influence obesity risk. Drinking soda pop is one example. Soda is loaded with sugar and has no nutritional value. What's more, regularly consuming soda or other soft drinks is a habit that's directly linked to the risk of weight gain and obesity. This has driven health authorities to take steps to discourage soda intake. For example, in 2012, then-New York city Mayor Michael Bloomberg proposed a ban on super-sized soft drinks larger than 16 ounces. The New York Supreme Court ruled against the ban, according to a June 2014 issue of the New York Times.

In addition, researchers reviewed studies in 30 publications for evidence of a link between soft drinks and obesity. They found sufficient evidence of such a link, particularly when it comes to soda, according to the results published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition's August 2006 issue. They concluded that regularly drinking soda may be a key contributor to the obesity epidemic.

Eating Away From Home Influences Weight

Whether you choose to eat with others or not, eating away from home is another habit that scientists warn may increase your risk of obesity. Researchers studied a Mediterranean population to evaluate the effects of eating away from home. For many years, citizens of Mediterranean countries ate most of their meals at home, until recent years. After evaluating the eating patterns of over 9,000 adults, researchers found that eating out was a significant risk factor for weight gain and obesity; people who ate out two or more times each week weighed more than those who ate at home. What's more, 855 participants became obese during the four-year follow-up.

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