According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “Obesity rates have nearly tripled since 1975 and have increased almost five times in children and adolescents”. Obesity is a major risk factor for various noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension and stroke, and various forms of cancer. Apart from this, it can also cause mental health issues, which in turn can lead to obesity.
As such, to raise awareness about the same, every year, World Obesity Day is observed on March 4.
Link between obesity and mental health
“People with mental health problems are two or three times more likely to develop obesity and other physical illnesses like diabetes, heart disease and arthritis,” says Tara Mehta, Clinical Psychologist, Department of Mental Health and Behavioural Sciences, Fortis Hospitals, Mumbai to indianexpress.com.
Mental health disorders like depression and anxiety can lead a person to form poor eating and lifestyle habits. “During this time, people may resort to food as a way of coping with their emotions. This over time can lead to weight gain causing obesity,” shares Mehta.
On the other hand, eating disorders can also lead one to develop an unhealthy relationship with food, where sometimes the person may over indulge or restrict what they consume to a great extent. “People suffering from depression often complain of low energy levels. This leads to a fairly sedentary lifestyle, reducing their motivation towards exercise, further leading to weight gain”.
Impact of obesity on mental health
Obesity has a direct impact on mental health. Excessive weight gain tends to negatively affect one’s sense of self-worth and self-esteem. “Depression and anxiety are commonly observed among obese people. They tend to isolate themselves socially, become conscious of what they eat in public, and lead restrictive lives,” explains Mehta.
She claims that obesity might also make it hard for individuals to perform physical tasks effectively. “Obese individuals tend to suffer from knee and ankle problems which limit their movements. Back pain is also commonly seen amongst them,” she says.
Obese individuals may also face problems with “social-occupational functioning, face loneliness and stigma in society thus impacting their overall quality of life.”
How to break this cycle
The treatment of obesity requires a holistic approach. According to WHO, the root cause of obesity in our society is a “complex mixture of dietary, lifestyle, genetic, psychological, sociocultural, economic and environmental factors.”
It suggests “restricting the marketing to children of food and drinks high in fats, sugar and salt; taxing sugary drinks, and providing better access to affordable, healthy food. In our cities and towns, we need to make space for safe walking, cycling, and recreation. We must teach our children healthy habits from early on.”
While speaking of solutions at individual level, Dr. Rajiv Kovil, Dr Kovils Diabetes and Zan Obesity Centre tells indianexpress.com, “We recommend a psychological assessment for people with excess body weight to diagnose conditions like eating disorders, or comfort eating. Then avoidance of situations or triggers to these needs to be imparted. Apart from this, the use of more positive language in our communication instead of body shaming and empathy counselling can help in overcoming the barrier.”