Obese people tend to see the causes of their weight problems as lying in a number of largely behavioural factors - such as a lack of physical activity and over-consumption - rather than in a family history/genetic component.

This is the conclusion of Ms Amy Brogan of Trinity College Dublin and her colleagues. Their results were presenteded at the British Psychological Society's Annual Conference in Dublin on Friday 4 April 2008.

The psychologists asked 20 obese men and 52 women to pinpoint the causes of their weight problems.

More than 70 per cent identified their obesity as directly caused by a lack of physical activity, over-eating and comfort eating. For some patients, this over-consumption and reduced activity was caused by psychological characteristics such as an addictive personality, traumatic events and family problems. In contrast to the research literature in this area, obese people did not see their obesity as caused by a family history/genetic component.

The study also highlighted that patients found their obesity greatly impacted on their lives and led them to further engage in behaviours which maintained their obesity (e.g. over-consumption of food and reduced activity levels).

Ms Brogan said: "Our study has shown that obese people are aware of the causes of their weight problems and see their obesity as stemming from a complex array of issues, rather than a single factor. The overall representation was much more complex than that found in previous investigations of causal beliefs in cardiovascular disease.

"Previous research has shown that the ways in which people attribute their weight problems influences how much weight they lose over the course of treatment. The challenge now for professionals is to understand how this complex representation can be used to help individuals lose the weight and adopt a healthier lifestyle."

British Psychological Society