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100+ Putative Causes Of Obesity – Take Your Pick

t_journals1Listening to (or reading the bestsellers written by) pundits, one may easily think that the entire obesity problem can be brought down to a couple of factors – sugar-sweetened beverages, fast food, sedentariness, screen-time, – take your pick.

Now, Morgan Downey, former CEO of the Obesity Society on his blog – the Downey Obesity Report – provides an update of previous lists of putative causes of obesity – a list that now included 104 items.

As he is careful to point out,

“The links are not meant to be definitive or best study but merely a demonstration of the interest in the particular cause.”

Given that many of these factors are implicated based largely on observational studies, which by their very nature cannot prove causality, some scepticism is in order.

However, for many factors on this list there is biological plausibility, often backed by findings from animal or experimental studies.

Here is Downey’s list of putative causes of obesity:

1. agricultural policies 2. air conditioning, 3. air pollution, 4. antibiotic usage at early age, 5. arcea nut chewing, 6. artificial sweeteners, 7.  Asian tiger mosquitos, 8. assortative mating, 9. being a single mother, 10. birth by C-section, 11. built environment, 12. celebrity chefs, 13. chemical toxins, (endocrine disruptors) 14. child maltreatment, 15. compulsive buying, 16. competitive food sales in schools, 17. consuming skim milk in preschool children, 18. consumption of pastries and chocolate (in Burkina Faso), 19. decline in occupational physical activity, 20. delayed prenatal care, 21. delayed satiety, 22. depression 23. driving children to school 24. eating away from home 25. economic development (nutrition transition) 26. entering into a romantic relationship, 27. epigenetic factors, 28. eradication of Helicobacter pylori, 29. family conflict, 30. family divorce, 31. first-born in family, 32. food addiction, 33. food deserts, 34. food insecurity, 35. food marketing to  children, 36. food overproduction, 37. friends, 38. genetics, 39. gestational diabetes, 40. global food system,(international trade policies) 41. grilled foods, 42. gut microbioata, 43. having children, for women, 44.  heavy alcohol consumption, 45.  home labor saving devices, 46. hormones (insulin,glucagon,ghrelin), 47. hunger-response to food cues, 48. high fructose corn syrup, 49. interpersonal violence, 50. lack of family meals, 51. lack of nutritional education, 52. lack of self-control, 53. large portion sizes, 54.  living in crime-prone areas, 55. low educational levels for women, 56. low levels of physical activity, 57. low Vitamin D levels, 58.  low socioeconomic status, 59. market economy, 60. marrying in later life 61. maternal employment, 62. maternal obesity, 63. maternal over-nutrition during pregnancy, 64. maternal smoking, 65. meat consumption, 66. menopause, 67. mental disabilities, 68. no or short term breastfeeding, 69. non-parental childcare 70. outdoor advertising, 71. overeating, 72. participation in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly Food Stamp Program) 73. perceived weight discrimination, 74. perception of neighborhood safety, 75. physical disabilities, 76. prenatal  maternal exposure to natural disasters, 77. poor emotional coping 78. sleep deficits, 79. skipping breakfast, 80. snacking, 81. smoking cessation, 82. spanking children, 83. stair design 84. stress, artificial lighting, air conditioning, 85.  sugar-sweetened beverages, 86. taste for fat,  87.  trans fats, 88. transportation by car, 89. television set in bedrooms, 90. television viewing, 91. thyroid dysfunction, 92. vending machines, 93. virus, 94. weight gain inducing drugs, 95. working long hours, 96. NEW too much homework, 97. NEW insufficient body heat, 98. NEW imagining the smell of food, 99. NEW dust components, 100. NEW living with grandparents in China, 101. NEW estrogens, 102. NEW thermogenic adipocytes, 103. NEW prenatal exposure to cigarette smoke, 104. NEW starting college.

For links to references for each of these putative causes, visit the Downey Obesity Report here.

Edmonton, AB

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  1. Creepy. I think I have read all these studies or at least summaries or abstracts. Sigh.

    I can’t help but note that the word “paternal” or “father” isn’t mentioned. How ’bout blaming paternal absence or neglect yada yada. On the other hand, “maternal” or “mother” is mentioned eleven times, and, let’s face it, most of the time the word “family” — as in “lack of family meals” — translates as “blame the mother.”

    Other thoughts: numbers 2 and 84 contain a redundancy, 103 and 64 are arguably redundant, 19 is a subset of 56.

    On the other hand, he could have upped his list by breaking out 13 into the various chemical toxins: BPA, insecticides, food additives like MSG, birth control effluent in our drinking water, and on and on. Also 27 and 38, if he chose to name the particular genes and when they are triggered. Also 42, death of good microbioata (name names, please) and proliferation of bad. Also 46. Give those hormones their own categories! Likewise, 94: which drugs are weight-gain inducing?! That’s a long list.

    In any event, this is interesting reading. And sad. Because the mainstream media, even those with MD medical advisors, always fall back on fat people are lazy, undisciplined or simply need a “wake up call.” Which reminds me, “bullying” — that could have made the list as an obesigen too. I think I’ve read about a study on that!

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  2. And livestock antibiotics and livestock growth hormones! How could I forget?!

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  3. Note to self …… Never live with grandparents in china (cause 100)

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