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What Causes Excess Body Fat?

Many factors play a part in the accumulation of extra body fat. For many people, a combination of eating habits and lifestyle factors cause a gradual increase in body fat over time. These same unhealthy patterns can also contribute to other obesity-linked problems, like stress and depression that can, in turn, make it more difficult to eat well and exercise.

Key factors related to weight gain include:

  • Inactivity. Your body needs regular exercise to maintain a healthy weight. This includes not just occasional bursts of physical activity (such as a trip to the gym), but moving around throughout the day. Sitting for long periods each day is linked to higher rates of death and health problems—a condition known as "sitting disease."
  • Poor eating habits. You need lots of whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and healthy proteins. Foods in which more than 30% of the calories come from saturated fat are much more likely to cause your body to accumulate fat. Drinks with added sugar and alcohol can also be a source of wasted calories.
  • Aging. Fat tends to accumulate as we age because of changes in hormones and metabolism, especially after menopause (in women). While you can't stop aging, you can adjust your portions and eating habits as you expect this natural tendency.
  • Genes. Certain genes have been linked with belly fat or obesity. In addition to being more likely to carry excess weight, people with these genes have been shown to face a significant risk of developing heart disease and diabetes.
  • Stress, depression and sleep deprivation. These factors not only affect your mood—they also affect your body. Hormonal changes and other factors associated with stress, depression and insufficient sleep can change how your body processes and stores fat, making it more difficult to shed pounds. These factors also make it harder to maintain healthy eating and exercise habits.

  • Last Edited 05/16/2023