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Root Drivers: Dispelling the Myths of Obesity

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Root Drivers: Dispelling the Myths of Obesity

— By Andrea M. Pampaloni, Ph.D.

The availability and abundance of food options, in conjunction with increased sedentary behaviors, contribute to the global increase in obesity. While overeating and a lack of physical activity certainly add to the obesity epidemic, they are far from the only causes. The reality is that obesity is a chronic disease that is affected by genetic, environmental, economic and sociocultural factors, to name just a few.

Genetics play a big role and can contribute to a 70 percent increased likelihood of developing obesity. Hormones such as leptin and ghrelin also are linked to obesity. Leptin suppresses food intake, and many people with obesity are leptin-resistant, which can lead to overeating.1 Conversely, ghrelin stimulates appetite, telling the brain to eat. Interestingly, though, people with obesity have lower levels of ghrelin2, and in many cases, people with obesity who lose weight and keep it off often have higher levels of ghrelin. These contrary distinctions make it difficult to know how to regulate these hormones. Neurosecretory protein GL (NPGL) has had similar effects in animal studies, increasing food intake and white adipose tissue.3

Life events, starting in utero, also affect weight. Women with obesity face additional risks, as do their fetus, and a mother’s weight is the strongest predictor of obesity in her child.4 When both parents have obesity, there is an 80 percent chance that their children will be obese. Illnesses and medications also can have an impact on weight, as well as mental health — another root driver.

Non-Food Factors that Contribute to Obesity

There are also multiple non-food factors that can significantly impact a patient’s overall health and wellness, and contribute to obesity. These include home location and proximity to safe outdoor space for activity, access to professional health care, and availability of healthy foods. All of these can have a heavy influence on choices and decision-making.

Despite the range and variety of root drivers to obesity, many people quickly attribute it to overindulging, poor food choices, and laziness. To counter these stereotypes and eliminate the stigma associated with obesity, it is important for patients of all sizes to be aware that there are multiple contributing factors at play over which patients have little or no control.

The “Whole Person” Approach to Treating Obesity

It is equally important to provide as many options as is reasonably feasible to patients based on their individual needs. Not everyone gains weight for the same reason and not everyone will lose weight with a one-size-fits-all approach. Additionally, people with obesity often have tried multiple weight loss methods during their lives, so the thought of another program requiring a great effort for little noticeable reward can be daunting. For these and many other patients, a medically-supervised Very Low Calorie Diet (VLCD), such as New Direction, can provide the incentive and outcomes they seek.

Regardless of a patient’s path to obesity, it is incumbent on health care professionals to encourage a “whole person” approach to treatment and recommend programs that offer a new path to achievable weight loss and increased activity.


  1. Gut-brain connection helps explain how overeating leads to obesity
  2. Ghrelin and Obesity: Identifying Gaps and Dispelling Myths. A Reappraisal
  3. Neurosecretory protein GL stimulates food intake, de novo lipogenesis, and onset of obesity.
  4. The Association between Maternal Body Mass Index and Child Obesity: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis

About the Author: Dr. Andrea Pampaloni has over 20 years of communication experience across corporate, academic, nonprofit and government sectors. She provides research and writing services on a range of business issues and industry-specific topics to prepare white papers, articles, proposals, presentations, technical content, and speaking points, as well as marketing-communications content such as blogs, website content, newsletters, news releases and award submissions. Dr. Pampaloni’s research findings have been presented at national and international conferences and published in peer-reviewed journals, and she is a ghostwriter for three books, a Forbes article, and several corporate blogs.

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