How Does Obesity Affect Mental Health?
— By Andrea M. Pampaloni, Ph.D.
Obesity is significantly associated with psychosocial burdens affecting the mental, emotional, social and spiritual aspects of overall health.
Misperceptions about weight and weight loss create unrealistic and often untrue assumptions about people with obesity. Because people who are overweight or have obesity can be perceived as lazy, undisciplined and irresponsible, it is no surprise that obesity is significantly associated with psychosocial burdens affecting the mental, emotional, social and spiritual aspects of overall health.
These stereotypes are a type of socially-accepted discrimination and can have a strong, detrimental impact on people with obesity. They often internalize the stigmas placed on them and question themselves and their ability to lose weight. This inevitably causes them to eat more and exercise less, so their weight loss struggle continues. This can lead to anxiety, depressive disorders, low self-esteem, eating disorders1 or even suicidal ideation.2
Children are similarly impacted. Compared to healthy weight youth, children can have higher levels of emotional eating, engage in fewer activities and experience more stress. They also report depression, sleep apnea and asthma more frequently. Not surprisingly, obesity is the most common reason children are bullied and teased at school.
What Can Be Done about Obesity Stereotypes and Misperceptions?
This is a national problem that requires national attention. Obesity is recognized as a disease that has reached epidemic levels, yet there is an assumption that individuals can — and should — control their weight through dietary changes and increased physical activity. Although the medical community, and certainly people with obesity understand that there are far more and complex contributing factors, little has been done at any level to create awareness of the significant physical and mental health risks of obesity. Public health campaigns on health issues including smoking, HIV and mental health awareness have been successful at changing behaviors to improve health. A similar mass media campaign is needed to educate all demographics on the long-term effects of obesity and to encourage meaningful changes at young ages when it can be most impactful. In the meantime, outreach to individual patients who have or are at risk for obesity is critical.
Can Weight Loss Using a Very Low Calorie Diet Help Physical and Mental Health?
A Very Low Calorie Diet (VLCD), such as Robard’s medically-supervised New Direction program, offers significant health benefits for patients, including lower cholesterol, blood pressure and blood glucose, cardiovascular improvement, and the reduction or elimination of the need for diabetes medication. Further, comprehensive programs using VLCDs typically include counselling by professionals who work with patients to help identify and treat mental health issues. This is important because weight loss is associated with an improved condition, often notably so among patients who lose a large percentage of body weight.3 This personalized, “whole person” approach engages patients and empowers them to prioritize lifestyle changes that will benefit their overall wellness, including their mental health.
- Self-reported Psychosocial Health in Obese Patients Before and After Weight Loss
- Obesity, Stigma and Discrimination
- The Psychosocial Burdens of Obesity
About the Author: Dr. Andrea Pampaloni has over 20 years of communication experience across corporate, academic, nonprofit and government sectors. She provides research and writing services on a range of business issues and industry-specific topics to prepare white papers, articles, proposals, presentations, technical content, and speaking points, as well as marketing-communications content such as blogs, website content, newsletters, news releases and award submissions. Dr. Pampaloni’s research findings have been presented at national and international conferences and published in peer-reviewed journals, and she is a ghostwriter for three books, a Forbes article, and several corporate blogs.