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Psychological and Sociological Factors that Influence a Person’s Diet and could Lead to an Increase in Obesity

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Psychology can be defined as; the study of the mind; a scientific study of behaviour and experience (Gross, 2005); ‘…the division of Natural science which takes human behaviour – the doings and sayings, both learned and unlearned – as its subject matter’ (Watson, 1919). Sociology attempts to understand and explain the behaviour of human beings in the society (Haralambos & Holborn, 2008) or it investigates the behavioural connections between humans and their society (Giddens & Sutton, 2013). Larsen, Astrup & Pedersen (2017) defined obesity as a condition of excessive build-up of body fat to a level that increases the risks of health complications like diabetes, infertility, hypertension and it could sometimes amplify asthma.

Studies show that the prevalence of obesity is still increasing worldwide in most countries; developed, developing and transitioning countries (Rössner, 2014); which includes all age groups and obesity or an increased BMI over 25kg/m2 could be recognised as a precursor to most of the leading causes of deaths in the world (The Global BMI Mortality Collaboration, 2016). In recent global estimates, it has shown that obesity has nearly tripled from the year 1975 up until 2016 and currently, 38% of men and 40% of women are overweight and 11% of men and 15% of women and obese (WHO, 2016). Causes of obesity can be biological; this can be due to chemical or hormonal imbalances between appetite regulation and energy metabolism which could eventually lead to too much weight gain; psychological and sociological; these include the state of mind and the relationship between the person and their environment.


Psychological trauma or stress

Psychological trauma, also known as mental distress, can be described as a state of emotional suffering that occurs when a stressful situation; like health issues, traumatic experiences; occurs and this makes the individual feel overwhelmed. Traumatic events that occur in childhood can be associated with the increased risk of being clinically obese during adulthood. Traumatic events can include grieving the loss of a close relative, after a divorce, emotional and physical abuse, sexual abuse or even witnessing domestic violence (Palmisano, Innamorati & Vanderlinden, 2016). Serious psychological trauma is often accompanied by depression, anxiety voracious appetite, known as polyphagia or hyperphagia, and weight increase in some but in others, they may respond with anorexia and weight loss (Larsen, et al., 2017), and individuals who suffer from psychological disorders may have more difficulty controlling their consumption of food, exercising an adequate amount, and maintaining a healthy weight. This usually affects the behaviour of an individual around others and makes it difficult to cope with daily life (Arvidsdotter, Marklund, Kylen, Taft, & Ekman, 2015).

Gunstad, Robert, Spitznagel, Cohen, Williams, Kohn, et al., (2006) conducted research that compared the exposure of childhood trauma to adult obesity and the results suggested that, there are various processes that intervene with early childhood trauma or stress and adult obesity, and they differ between men and women but a history of being bullied/rejected (Obese 31%, Normal weight, 9%) and emotional abuse (Obese, 17%; Normal weight, 2%) predicted adult obesity after controlling the effects of age. Treatments, like antidepressants and antipsychotic medications, given to these individuals that have experienced childhood trauma can cause excessive weight gain, therefore a selection of the most appropriate pharmacotherapy to treat these medical conditions should be taken into account of the potential effect on weight gain (Larsen, et al., 2017).

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Emotional eating

Food is sometimes relied upon for non-nutritional reasons and under these instances, individuals may be impelled to eat by their negative emotions rather than actual feelings of hunger. This type of behaviour is often referred to ‘emotional eating’ (, 2019) and this can be viewed in a biological, psychological or sociological point of view. Individuals who tend to be overweight or obese tend to underestimate their total energy consumption and report what’s usually socially acceptable (Rössner, 2014). Emotional eating occurs in most individuals but some are able to maintain their normal weight while for some it could lead to gaining excess weight which proves much more difficulty in going about losing the excess weight by engaging in physical activity. Emotional eating has been linked with reduced consciousness of internal hunger and satiety cues and this is due to the fact that stress modifies one’s ability to take notice of these cues likewise, it is also found that individuals who have experienced binge-eating episodes engaged in emotional eating because they were unable to suppress the amount of food consumed (Frayn, Livshits, & Knäuper, 2018) while individuals of normal body weight who engage in emotional eating have been found to consume less food consciously when negative emotions are experienced than individuals with overweight or obesity. Thus, it may be that individuals of normal body weight are more aware of their internal hunger and satiety cues even under stress (Frayn, et al., 2018). Some participants perceived emotional eating as an unhealthy way to cope with their problems. These participants believed that emotional eating carried mental repercussions such as negative body image and ineffective coping. A few participants presented the idea that emotional eating covered up a pressing issue that needed to be dealt with (Frayn, et al., 2018). A study conducted by Manister & Gigliotti (2016) that shows how emotional mediates an increase in the risk of being obesity in Clergy shows that 81.4% of them were overweight and 36.7% of them were obese. The results obtained shows that clergies go through a lot of stressful situations as it is a highly demanding job and dues to the great amount of stress, they end up trying to cope with their stress by eating a lot of food.

Sociological factors that increase the risk of obesity

Socioeconomic status (SES) and Education

A number of studies show that obesity is mostly common amongst people with lower socioeconomic groups (Kopelman & Stock, 2005). Sobal & Stunkard (1989) conducted a research that showed that the relationship between SES and obesity has been examined in many studies in both developed and developing societies. The results obtained from women showed that Obesity was six times more prevalent amongst women of lower SES than those of upper SES, and this is also the same case in men but a lower percentage (Kopelman, et al., 2005). According a research performed by Kuntz and Lampert (2010), women in Germany that lower education, occupational status, and are in a lower income than the rest of the population appear to be extremely affected by obesity. And in men there is not only a link between education and occupational status but also obesity at the same time but predominantly, income has a stronger effect for women, whereas for men income is unrelated to the presence of obesity. A study conducted by Wardle, Waller & Jarvis (2002) showed that higher educational achievement and socioeconomic status were associated with a lower risk of obesity in both men and women, whilst higher occupational status was linked with a lower risk only for women.

Culture and ethnicity

There is currently no acceptable definition for culture, it can be described as distinctive ways of life that are designed to maintain a group of people and provide a template for how to respond to the environment and to other people (Craig, 2005). In Craig’s findings (2005), it is stated that Anderson and colleagues conducted a detail research of various cultures to provide an overall explanation for the cross-cultural differences of the ideal female body shape. In most cases, it was found out that the male population preferred bigger ladies because it signified(s) fertility and reproductive success. Numerous studies conducted within various ethnic groups have shown that perceptions and preferences of body sizes differ amongst ethnic groups but there were a few cases where no differences were found (Craig, 2005). Physical bigness often reflected ability to survive and symbolizes abundance, success and wealth. Understanding the influence of race and ethnicity on the rate of being overweight and obese has to be brought to attention because it is one of the common reasons that leads to the increase in cases. In some developing countries, where undernutrition has traditionally been one of the major health concerns in children, overweight and obesity are now more prevalent (Caprio, Daniels, Drewnowski, Kaufman, Palinkas, Rosenbloom, et al., 2008). Caprio, et al’s study (2008) shows that the prevalence of childhood obesity among African Americans, Mexican Americans, and Native Americans exceeds that of other ethnic groups. This could be one reason, amongst so many other reasons, for the increased number of females who are overweight or obese in the world as it is nearly tripled the population results from 1975 (WHO, 2016). 1486


All factors that could influence a person’s diet and lead to obesity are all intertwined especially between psychological and sociological factors. All these factors need to be considered in order to know what an individual or many individuals go through in their lifetime, from childhood to adulthood and their retirement age.


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Psychological and Sociological Factors that Influence a Person’s Diet and could Lead to an Increase in Obesity. (2022, July 08). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 6, 2023, from
“Psychological and Sociological Factors that Influence a Person’s Diet and could Lead to an Increase in Obesity.” Edubirdie, 08 Jul. 2022,
Psychological and Sociological Factors that Influence a Person’s Diet and could Lead to an Increase in Obesity. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 6 Dec. 2023].
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