"Vicious circles": the development of morbid obesity

Qual Health Res. 2014 Sep;24(9):1212-20. doi: 10.1177/1049732314544908. Epub 2014 Jul 30.


Although there has been extensive research around the etiology of moderate obesity, there are still important questions relating to the development and lived experience of extreme obesity. We present a synthesis of data from two in-depth qualitative studies in which morbidly obese participants (N = 31) were able to explain the development of the condition in their own terms. We identified consistent themes in the two datasets, and undertook a detailed data synthesis. Particularly salient themes in the development of morbid obesity related to family structures and early socialization experiences, and the role of emotional distress was dominant in both initial weight gain and ongoing cycles of loss and regain. All informants accepted some responsibility for their health state, but identified a number of mitigating factors that limited personal culpability that were often related to the fulfillment of gendered social expectations.

Keywords: comparative analysis; embodiment / bodily experiences; emotions / emotion work, interviews; lived experience; meta-ethnography; obesity / overweight; research, qualitative; social identity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attitude to Health
  • Family Relations / psychology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Morals
  • Obesity, Morbid / etiology*
  • Obesity, Morbid / psychology
  • Qualitative Research
  • Young Adult