, DelhiZarafshan Shiraz
Patients who suffer from obesity are subjected to weight-based stigma and bias in many aspects of their lives as society perceives them in a negative manner and labels them as individuals with low willpower and self-restraint. Their value is judged on the basis of their external appearance and not on the basis of their capabilities where they are constant subjects of teasing and ridicule and continuously receive unwarranted advice about their weight and body shape.
This has a negative effect on body image and eventually may lead to low self-esteem and depression in many individuals and it is seen that women are more prone to depression associated with obesity than men where this was further aggravated during the Covid 19 pandemic. In an interview with HT Lifestyle, Dr Aparna Govil Bhasker, Bariatric and laparoscopic surgeon at Saifee, Apollo Spectra, Namaha and Currae Hospitals in Mumbai, shared, “Obesity was one of the risk factors that led to increased severity of Covid 19 infection. This coupled with social distancing norms in most countries forced patients suffering from obesity to stay indoors. This led to immense stress and uncertainty in the lives of individuals suffering from obesity. Increased anxiety made them more vulnerable to over-eating and sedentary lifestyle, thus predisposing them to further weight gain.”
Today we all live an alternate life on social media but unfortunately, social media is flooded with weight-based memes and highly stigmatizing content about obesity thus, further reinforcing the bias that individuals suffering from obesity may be lazy and less active and have less will-power. Dr Aparna Govil Bhasker said, “Internalization of these weight-biased attitudes in media portrayals has been shown to cause adverse effects on psychological health, leading to more depression and anxiety, low self-esteem, body image issues, and disordered eating. Weight based internalization is also associated with greater emotional distress and has been linked with depression.”
He highlighted, “Patients who suffer from mental health disease to start with are also more prone to developing obesity. Insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome have been seen to be associated with Schizophrenia. Many antipsychotic medications also lead to weight gain and have an impact on insulin sensitivity. Many psychiatric disorders are also associated with comfort eating, a lack of interest in preparing healthy meals, impulsive eating and sometimes food addiction. Resulting weight gain in these patients leads to further increase in psychological problems thus forming a vicious cycle.”
Asserting that it is important to recognize that obesity has debilitating effects not only on physical health but also on mental health, he suggested, “It is high time that we give a thought to creating systems through which we can help our patients. We need to use technology to its full potential so that we can spread positive messages, encourage our patients online, and change the tone of social media messaging. While we need to educate our patients to practice self-compassion and mindfulness, we also need to become more sensitive to issues faced by patients suffering from obesity. Obesity and mental health issues are closely interrelated and need our attention in a more holistic manner. While treating patients suffering from obesity finally, we must remember that the definition of “health” is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”