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Why am I so Fat? A Psychosocial Perspective

Updated on December 16, 2012

Biological factors (see: Why am I so Fat? A Biological Perspective) don't account solely for our hunger levels and eating behavior. Other factors include:

  • Early conditioning
  • Stress
  • Socioeconomic status
  • Gender

Do you reward good behavior with food?
Do you reward good behavior with food? | Source

Early Conditioning

One of the first symbols of love between a mother and child involves eating, whether breast milk or bottle, these feeding times are opportunities to bond. From an early age, we learn to associate food with holidays, personal achievements, and social occasions. Do you use the M&M method to motivate your toddler to start using the potty? Do you or other people seek the delight and good behavior of a child by offering him or her a sucker?

Studies show that overeating as a child promotes adult obesity. Did your parent(s) ever tell you to "clean your plate?" Obedience to this command can increase the number of adipose cells formed during childhood. The more adipose cells you have, the more fat you can store.

Stress

Studies show that being provided with comfort food as a child is a key factor in later stress eating.

Acute and chronic stress are associated with eating in the absence of hunger. One test, labeled HABITS (Health and Behavior in Teenagers Study) had 4320 school children from diverse backgrounds complete questionnaires regarding their levels of stress and what they ate during those times. Girls and boys who reported the highest levels of stress also reported eating more fatty foods and snacks than their less-stress peers.

Abundance of Fast Food Restaurants
Abundance of Fast Food Restaurants | Source
Lack of Healthy Menu Choices
Lack of Healthy Menu Choices | Source
Farmer's Market
Farmer's Market | Source

Culture

One thing genetics cannot explain is why weight increases in our population are not evenly distributed and why there's been a disproportionate increase in the number of massively obese people in certain ethnic groups. Within the U.S., obesity is more prevalent among African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Native Americans, and other minority groups.

Studies show that, in developed countries, people with a lower socioeconomic status compared to those in the middle to upper income category, tend to overeat or eat unhealthy food. Why is this?

One explanation is based on the correlation found between lower incomes, fewer years of education, and higher weights. It could be that people in lower socioeconomic environments:

  • are not as aware of the benefits of healthy eating and the hazards of obesity
  • may have a social circle made up of friends and relatives that eat fatty, unhealthy food
  • may have a lower perceived self-efficacy (they don't feel as able to improve their eating and exercise habits)
  • may have limited access to quality health care
  • may have to endure greater daily stress associated with poverty, especially prejudice, crowding, and crime. They may use eating as a coping mechanism to deal with these stresses.
  • may not have access to grocers and farmer's markets that sell fresh, healthy food. In addition, some cities have an overabundance of fast food restaurants. As far as exercise, for instance, in sprawling Detroit, residents are more dependent on their cars to commute to work and find healthy food. These individuals tend to weigh more than residents of more compact cities where walking is more practical.
  • may not be able to afford healthy food.

U.S. Obesity Rates Higher in Men
U.S. Obesity Rates Higher in Men | Source

Gender

Due to the clear income gradient among women of various education levels, studies show that low-income women are 1.4 times as likely to be overweight as women with middle incomes and 1.6 times as likely to be overweight as women with high incomes. For men of all races, however, there is little evidence of an income gradient as a factor in weight.

However, between genders, statistics kept by the Kaiser Family Foundation reveal that nearly 70% of all men in the U.S. are overweight or obese, and close to 60% of all women are overweight or obese.

As a child, were you ever bribed with candy?

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    • rasta1 profile image

      Marvin Parke 

      5 years ago from Jamaica

      Very interesting and true. I do not believe in the genetic blame game.

    • LucyLiu12 profile imageAUTHOR

      Robin Young 

      5 years ago from Boise

      So true - food rewards are a BIG part of American culture, even though we often don't realize the disservice we are doing to our children.

    • LucyLiu12 profile imageAUTHOR

      Robin Young 

      5 years ago from Boise

      Exceptionally true, Sydwu. Back when our survival depended on consuming any kinds of calories, the pre-historic versions of us who survived, were those that stored fat efficiently and thus they passed those genes onto their descendants: us. Now that we have abundant access to food, unfortunately, our genetics still reward those who are able to store fat.

    • jclaffee profile image

      Jesse Claffee 

      5 years ago from Winston-Salem, NC

      Great point about stress-related eating; children are frequently conditioned by their parents to eat in response to stress or emotional trauma.

    • Sydwu profile image

      Syd 

      5 years ago from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

      From viewpoint of evolutionary psychology, hunger and starving is normal for our ancestors who lived in forests. A taste preference to foods with high calorie developed. It's no wonder people in different cultures like sweet food or oil-rich food. In modern world, most people do not face hunger and starvation, but this taste preference remained. This is evolutionary explaining of fat.

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