Obesity: Too much to take

The psychological implications of obesity need attention

Obesity, or 'globesity', the term coined by the World Health Organization [WHO] to reflect the rapidly escalating numbers of overweight and obese people worldwide is a critical public health concern. It is currently estimated that 300 million people worldwide are obese and the numbers are increasing at an alarming rate. India is currently ranked among the top 10 'FAT' countries in the world [it is also the Diabetes capital of the world].

Although the physiological fall-outs of obesity are evident, the psychological implications are rarely acknowledged by society. In fact, the emotional and psychological effects of obesity can be just as damaging as the physical effects, according to recent obesity research. These include social discrimination, low self-esteem and suicidal ideations.

Obese men and women are less physically active not just because it's difficult for them to move around, but also because they feel uncomfortable in gyms, swimming pools or fitness classes because of their size and shape. This lack of physical exercise leads to further depression and anxiety since there is no outlet for the release of stress and tension. Inadequate special facilities to assist obese people with mobility and access issues in countries like India [as opposed to the West], further compounds the problem.

Social discrimination includes the manner in which society views a person based on his/her appearance—people often judge and mistreat overweight individuals. Obese people are seen as lazy and lacking in willpower, or simply incapable of looking after themselves properly. They are socially 'undesirable', which increases their chances of suffering from anxiety and depression.

Recent research has uncovered that obese young women are half as likely to attend college as slim girls. They are also more likely to use drugs and alcohol than their slimmer peers. Research has shown that girls are far more vulnerable to the emotional effects of obesity than boys because body image and appearance play a larger role in their sense of self-esteem. Women who are overweight need to deliberately focus on increasing their body confidence.

Obese people often have trouble finding companionship. Because of this, they lead an increasingly reclusive lifestyle, which can then result in a spiral of depression and increasing suicidal tendencies. Obese children, who are even more impressionable given their young age, face discrimination in family as well as in school, where peers can be especially cruel and unforgiving in their criticism.

As obesity rates continue to climb worldwide, it becomes increasingly necessary to exercise compassion and increase education levels about obesity, its causes and solutions, both non-surgical [diet modification, exercise, medication] and surgical. The obese can find relief in Bariatric surgery—an internationally accepted practice for promoting and sustaining weight loss in morbidly obese people [BMI >32 in Asian patients] who have exhausted all alternatives and have reached a stage where the physiological and psychological effects of obesity have assumed life-threatening proportions.

"Our positive energy will help obese individuals and ourselves understand each other better and help diminish the social stigma associated with obesity. Lets reach out to these individuals, embrace them and assure them that they are not alone," says Dr Muffazal Lakdawala, co-founder of the Centre for Obesity and Diabetes Support [CODS]. He stresses that we can make a difference by intentionally being mindful about the thoughts and feelings of obese people around us and is emphatic about his organisation's determination to spearhead awareness about obesity. "There is hope for an almost complete recovery and a second chance at life," says he.

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