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World Obesity Day: It’s Time To End Weight Stigma

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World Obesity Day is observed on October 11. The theme for 2018 is “End Weight Stigma”.

Obesity, as we all know, is a major contributor to preventable diseases and death across the world. More than one-third of the world’s population is either overweight or obesity. If the trend continues, it is estimated that around 38% of the worldwide population will be overweight and around 20% will be obese by 2030[1]. Here is a quick look at some key aspects of obesity that every person should be aware of and why ending the weight stigma is the key to fight obesity.

What is obesity?

In simple terms, obesity is defined as a condition of excess fat accumulation which in turn impairs overall health. The body mass index (BMI), which is calculated as [(weight in kg) / (height in m)2], is the most widely used criteria to classify underweight, overweight, and obesity in adults. According to the World Health Organization, the normal BMI is between 20 – 24.9 kg/m2. BMI values of 25 kg/m2 to 29.9 kg/m2 are considered as overweight whereas a value above 30 kg/m2 is considered as obese.

However, as per the Consensus Guidelines for Asian Indians (2009), the cut-offs of overweight and obesity for Indians are suggested to be 23 kg/m2 and 25 kg/m2 respectively. Here’s more on what is Body Mass Index (BMI) and how to calculate it.

What are the complications of obesity?

Obesity is not just about simple weight gain but can put you at risk of numerous health complications. In fact, it is a metabolic disorder and gaining weight can increase the risk of other metabolic disorders such as high cholesterol, hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and infertility. The high ratio of body fat to muscle puts pressure on the bones and internal organs leading to joint pain and high blood pressure. The imbalance in the hormones can lead to infertility and the increased mechanical load can lead to heart, kidney, or liver disease. It also increases the risk of inflammation which can up the risk of cancer.

Hence, it goes without saying that everyone has to deal with these physical health problems of obesity. However, what many are unaware of is the impact it has on a person’s psychological and mental well being. “For example, a woman tends to gain weight post delivery. This is because, after childbirth, she fails to find time to focus on herself. She focuses all her time looking after a newborn and balancing the needs of her work and family. As a result, she gradually starts to feel negative about her post-pregnancy body. This can, in turn, affect her mood, lead to stress and depression and in the long run, can affect the quality of life,” says Dr. Sanghanayak Meshram, a Mumbai-based psychiatrist.

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What is weight stigma?

Weight stigma in simple terms is discrimination based on a person’s weight. It is no secret that weight stigma and discrimination is quite prevalent in our society. Moreover, it is a common belief that weight stigma (body shaming or fat shaming) motivates people to lose weight,

If a person is overweight or obese, then he or she becomes the topic of discussion in a family. His friends, family, and relatives not only tend to constantly blame him for his eating habits and lifestyle but also body shame him every now and then. There is a common misconception that fat shaming can help people to change their behaviors in order to avoid further stigma. But in reality, it makes the person vulnerable mentally and psychologically, which further causes him to put on weight.

Weight gain may be due to unhealthy eating habits and eating foods that lack nutrients such as packaged or processed food or due to a sedentary lifestyle. When we think of an obese person, we can only picture a person stuffing everything on a plate into his mouth and unable to exercise. But not every person who is overweight or obese is due to his eating habits. Obesity could be due to underlying conditions including hormonal issues such as polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) or thyroid disease. So it is important to consult a doctor to know the root cause rather than blaming a person for his weight.

Also read: Overweight or obese? 7 health risks and consequences in women

Can weight stigma lead to weight loss?

According to several research studies[2] weight stigma is an unlikely motivator to lose weight.

On the contrary, weight stigma increases the risk of engaging in unhealthy eating habits and low levels of physical activity. It can also lead to psychological problems such as negative body image and low self-esteem, lack of confidence and increased risk of mood disorders such as depression. This can lead to additional weight gain and greater stigma which in turn can either directly or indirectly impact a person’s physical and psychological health and affect the quality of life.

Moreover, it is also questioned that if weight stigma promotes a healthier lifestyle and weight loss, then the increased weight discrimination over the past decades should have been accompanied by a reduction in obesity rates. Instead, there is an alarming increase in the obesity rates over the past decade, which proves that weight stigma does more harm than good and does not lead to weight loss.

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How is obesity treated?

Diet and lifestyle interventions such as moderate physical activity, swimming, yoga, etc are some of the initial treatment options recommended for weight loss. If these techniques fail to show any improvement, then clinical interventions are considered.

When it comes to medical intervention for obesity, there are numerous options available such as weight loss medications and surgery which you have to discuss with your doctor. For example, to know if you are eligible to undergo a weight loss surgery or if bariatric surgery can help you to lose weight, then consulting a bariatric surgeon can help. You should also consider going to an endocrinologist to know whether your weight gain is due to an underlying disease. Also, counselors and support groups can help you to identify the triggers that can lead to weight gain such as anxiety, depression, or emotional eating habits and help you cope with it.

Hence, consulting the right expert and choosing the right treatment option is the key to lose weight and lead a healthy life.

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Bottom line: The theme for World Obesity Day is to end weight stigma which means that you do not penalize or body shame a person who is overweight or obese as it doesn’t help in weight loss but can lead to further health problems.

(The article is reviewed by Dr. Lalit Kanodia, General Physician)

References:

1. Hruby A, Hu FB. The Epidemiology of Obesity: A Big Picture. Pharmacoeconomics. 2015 Jul;33(7):673-89.

2. Puhl RM, Heuer CA. Obesity stigma: important considerations for public health. Am J Public Health. 2010 Jun;100(6):1019-28.

3. Wirth A, Wabitsch M, Hauner H. The prevention and treatment of obesity. Dtsch Arztebl Int. 2014 Oct 17;111(42):705-13.

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