Risk Factors

Many factors can affect weight

There are many different risk factors that can increase your chance of becoming overweight or obese. The most common risk factor for obesity is an unhealthy lifestyle. Healthy lifestyle choices, such as good nutrition and adequate physical activity, lead to good health and a consistent, healthy weight. The other risk factors that can influence weight are discussed below.


Good nutrition is key to achieving and maintaining a healthy weight. Excess calories from any source will result in becoming overweight or obese. Caloric intake of American men increased by 7% from 1971 to 2000, and by 22 % for women (NHANES data, MMWR weekly Feb 6, 2004 / 53(04); 80-82). Factors contributing to this include larger portion sizes, eating food away from home more often, eating too much salty snacks and drinking too many sweetened beverages.

Physical Activity

Regular physical activity is also crucial for maintaining a healthy weight. A sedentary lifestyle plays a large role in a person's likelihood to be overweight or obese. Over time physical inactivity can shorten life expectancy, decrease quality of life, and limit independence. Physical inactivity is associated with obesity, heart disease, diabetes, colon cancer, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, and anxiety and depression.

Media Use

We are a nation that has more televisions than people, and we make use of a variety of media for our work, play, and social interaction. While this may be a sign of progress, our bodies are paying the price. We spend more and more of our leisure time engaged in sedentary behavior, and less and less of our time being active. In the average American home the television is on for seven hours and 40 minutes per day. The average American adult spends over four hours each day watching television. Of even more concern, the average American one-year-old child watches six hours of television per week and the average American child between two to 17 years of age spends 19 hours and 40 minutes each week watching television.

Excessive media use is affecting our health. The more television one watches, the greater the odds are of becoming overweight or obese. Our home environments make it easier to be sedentary. For example, 56 percent of children eight to sixteen years old have a television in their bedroom, and 36 percent of children six years old and younger have a television in their bedroom. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends no screen time (including TV, video, etc.) for those younger than two and 1-2 hours/day of "quality programming" for children of other ages. Take some time to identify how much time you and your family spend engaged in media use; then try to decrease that time by engaging in an active pastime. You will find that you will feel more energized, and closer as a family.

Pregnancy Weight Gain

Excessive pregnancy weight gain is contributing to the increase in obesity. In 2005, slightly more than 52% of Utah women gained too much weight during pregnancy. Women who gain too much weight during pregnancy are at risk for long-term weight gain and retention. Research has found that pregnant women who gain more than the amount recommended by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) are four times more likely to be obese one year after giving birth than women who gain within the recommended range. For more information visit the Baby Your Baby website.

Tobacco Use

Tobacco use often aggravates and worsens existing diseases, such as diabetes, asthma, and stroke. Concerns about gaining weight after quitting smoking (or using other tobacco products), may deter people from quitting tobacco or may promote relapse. The average smoker gains five pounds after quitting, and a small percentage of smokers gain more than 20 pounds. To offset this weight gain, smoking cessation should be accompanied by healthy eating and an exercise program. Weight gained after quitting tobacco is considered a negligible health threat when compared to the health risks of continuing to use tobacco and the major health benefits of quitting tobacco. Quitting smoking may help individuals to be physically active and maintain a healthy weight by improving lung function. For help quitting, go to the Tobacco Prevention and Control Program website, call the free Utah Tobacco Quit Line at 1-888-567-TRUTH (8788) or visit UtahQuitNet.


Although environmental factors play an important role in obesity, genetic factors also contribute to the development of obesity. Genes can indirectly influence obesity through a variety of ways such as taste, appetite, satiety, metabolic rate, and fat distribution. Family history is also an important factor in the development of obesity because it reflects genetic susceptibility as well as shared behaviors, lifestyle habits, cultural beliefs, and other environmental risk factors among family members.