Abstract Obesity rates have increased dramatically over the last 30 years. Rising obesity has developed into a considerable worldwide public health problem with significant economic and social consequences. Accordingly, obesity has become a subject of economic research. This paper provides a broad survey of the recent and growing economic literature on the causes of obesity. The literature, both theoretical and empirical, overall aims to explain the rising obesity trend and to identify the factors that contribute to obesity. Also surveyed are non-economic causes and consequences of obesity and the interconnection with economic influences. An understanding of the causes of obesity allows policies to be considered that might stem the global increase in obesity.