Causes

Overweight and obesity occur mainly because of an imbalance between energy intake from the diet and energy expenditure (through physical activities and bodily functions). Genetic and environmental factors also play a role.

Healthy eating and physical activity are important for a healthy active life. Maintaining your weight means balancing the energy going into your body (as food and drink) and the energy being used for growth and repair, for physical activity, and to keep your bodily functions working.

Food and nutrition

The total amount of food that your body needs depends on your age, sex, body size, level of physical activity and whether you are pregnant or breastfeeding. Children and adolescents need enough nutritious food to grow and develop normally. Older people need to eat nutritious foods to help maintain a healthy weight.

The body converts the protein, fat and carbohydrate in food to energy. Excess energy intake, even a small amount over a long period, will cause weight gain. Visit eatforhealth.gov.au to calculate your individual energy requirements.

The Australian Guide to Healthy Eating is a food selection guide that visually represents the proportion of the five food groups recommended for consumption each day. Following these recommendations and limiting the number of energy-dense, nutrient-poor discretionary foods and drinks is the best way to maintain a healthy weight. 

For more information see Food & nutrition

Physical activity

The human body expends energy in 3 ways:

  • basal metabolism (the energy used to maintain vital body processes)
  • thermic processes (the energy taken to digest and absorb food)
  • physical activity (the energy used to move around).

Physical activity is the component a person has the most control over. Being physically active throughout life helps to promote health and wellbeing and prevent chronic disease. Not expending enough energy can contribute to weight gain and overweight and obesity.

Too much sedentary behaviour (sitting or lying down, except when sleeping) can also contribute to overweight and obesity. Australia’s Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines recommend the type, duration, intensity and frequency of physical activity, and practices for sedentary behaviour, for people of different life stages.

For more information see Physical activity

Obesogenic environments

The term ‘obesogenic environment’ is used to describe an environment that promotes obesity (Swinburn et al. 1999). Schools, workplaces, homes and neighbourhoods, the media, availability of convenience foods, and portion sizes can all influence a person’s body weight. See A picture of overweight and obesity in Australia for more information on obesogenic environments.

References

Swinburn B, Egger G & Raza F 1999. Dissecting obesogenic environments: the development and application of a framework for identifying and prioritizing environmental interventions for obesity. Preventive Medicine 29:563–70.