Can Obesity Affect Your Mental Health?

The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that by 2020, two-thirds of the global burden of disease will be attributable to diseases such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease. Philip James, a member of the expert panel and chair of the International Obesity Task Force, warns: “We now know that the biggest global health burden for the world is dietary in origin and is compounded by association with low physical activity levels. This is going to plague us for the next 30 years.” In early 2011, WHO reported that there approximately 345 million people worldwide who had a BMI of 30 or more (which is considered obese on the BMI index).

Why are obesity rates increasing?

The main reason obesity is increasing worldwide is a result of changes in diet and physical activity. The “nutrition transition” toward refined food and increased fats play a major role in the increase. Urban areas or cities tend to have a higher amount of obese people then rural areas do. This is mainly due to food being more readily available and often cheaper in urban areas, as well as workers tending to have jobs which are less physically demanding then rural areas.

Obesity could be linked to depression and other mental disorders
As obesity reaches epidemic levels in the US and other first world countries experts need to also look at the idea of weight gain being associated with personal emotional problems. A considerable amount of obese people suffer from depression but they may be caught in a vicious cycle whereby their diet is poor and regular exercise is not achieved, which in turn, increases the weight and their depressive symptoms.

According to the July 2006 Issue of Archives of General Psychiatry, a study was conducted on a group of 9,000 adults and the results indicated that there were approximately 25 per cent more incidences of mood and anxiety disorder in obese patients compared to patients of normal or average weight.

The association of obesity and mental health also continues with other studies which have been conducted. According to Anna Rydén, Researcher in the Health Care Research Unit, at Sahlgrenska University Hospital, Sweden, there is a link between obesity and mental illness. The results from the Swedish SOS (Swedish Obese Subjects) study showed that obese patients were more prone to anxiety, impulsive behaviour and irritability before they had undergone gastric surgery or conventional treatments of diet and exercise, then they were after receiving treatment. Previous research has also shown that prolonged stress can lead to both depression and other physical problems such as an increase in blood pressure, insulin resistance and abdominal obesity. Improving obese patients’ ability to cope with stress should also be included in the overall weight reduction process.

From the results discussed in this article it is clear that the connection between obesity and mental health issues is an important health issue. The National Obesity Observatory report entitled “Obesity and mental health” which is written by the NHS (National Health Service in the UK), have also indicated this as a public health concern in their March 2011 issue. Gender, severity of obesity, level of education, socioeconomic status, ethnicity and age have all been suggested as potentially important risk factors that could affect the association between obesity and mental health. Women seem to be greater at risk of the association rather than men. One suggestion of women being more susceptible is that more stigma tends to be attached to a woman that is overweight than her male counterpart.

The report also indicated that there are differing opinions as to the age and cause of the association between the two conditions, however, there is strong evidence to suggest that by the time an obese person reaches adolescence, there is an increased risk of low-self esteem and impaired quality of life, particularly in areas such as physical appearance, fitness competency and socialising.

Approaches to dealing with obesity and associated diseases vary widely from country to country. Unfortunately all too often obesity is not always seen as a serious medical condition and tends to be only treated when other diseases have developed as a consequence. Some high-risk patients are given weight loss drugs but these cannot generally be used in the long term due to side affects such as anxiety and hypertension. However, new drugs are currently being tested which should help improve the side effects of taking weight loss medication. Surgical procedures such as gastric bypass, gastroplasty and liposuction are also becoming increasingly popular. However, most experts still believe that a calorie controlled diet and exercise are the best methods for long term weight loss and if we can convey this message to our children, we may just have some hope of tackling obesity and the diseases associated with it.

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