Research Highlights Emotional Toll from Obesity

Published November 25th, 2009 - 09:20 GMT

Obesity not only has serious consequences for an individual’s physical health, it also significantly impacts their emotional and mental wellbeing. This was the topic of a special forum held in Dubai yesterday (Tuesday); one which focused on how ridicule and discrimination within society can lead to depression and low-self esteem for those who are excessively overweight.
The unique panel discussion, which saw the release of recent research findings into the subject, featured healthcare professionals with a particular interest in psycho-social issues around obesity. It was convened as a core part of a month-long drive by the wellness company VLCC, to create awareness about the ills of Obesity in the UAE; a country that is currently listed by the World Health Organisation as being the 18th ‘fattest’ nation in the international obesity league.
“Everyone is aware of the medical effects of being obese, with the condition causing a range of complications that include heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes, but what is less well documented is the emotional impact that being overweight can have on a person,” said Sandeep Ahuja, CEO of VLCC. “The research presented today has revealed that 43 percent of those questioned believed that they had experienced either discrimination or ridicule over their weight,” he added.
Among the panel members debating the issue of obesity and mental wellbeing and one who has first-hand experience of the topic is Mr. Ayub Kalaff, Managing Director at Health Call. Based at Dubai Healthcare City, Mr. Kalaff is a developmental psychologist who has worked with overweight youngsters. “I believe that it is vital to highlight this subject, as individuals need to receive positive support if they are to address their being overweight successfully,” said Mr. Kalaff, speaking before the event. “Studies have shown that if such people receive criticism or negative comments, they can easily retreat into themselves and continue on a downwards spiral, which will see them continuing to eat junk food for comfort and staying indoors to avoid social interaction,” he added.
The morning discussion saw the recent research on impact of obesity in the UAE being discussed. A combined study had been conducted for those who were overweight with a Body Mass Index (BMI) above 25 and those who were clinically obese with a BMI of over 30. Ninety-eight percent of respondents expressed the opinion that it was the lifestyle within the country that had led them to piling on the kilos. Typical among the replies were expressions that working hours were “too-long” and that there was little time to do much apart from “eat, sleep and go to work.” Many expatriates claimed that they had put on weight only after relocating to the UAE. Twenty percent admitted to eating fast food or takeaway meals three to four times a week, with 46 percent agreeing that their weight had caused them to experience low mood.
“The research helped us to understand the psychological and social pressures that those who are overweight experience,” revealed the representative from ExHealth, the healthcare management firm that conducted the VLCC commissioned research. “There was a strong recognition by those we contacted that they needed to lose the kilos, with 92 percent stating that they were either trying to lose weight at present or intended to do so in the future. In fact, 54 percent had been advised to do so by their doctors,” he continued. “Forty-eight percent of the survey sample believed that it was a lack of exercise that was the main cause for them being overweight, compared to 11 percent who identified poor eating habits. Twenty-two percent of those polled attributed both of these significant factors as the reason they were over their healthy BMI range,” he added.
VLCC started its Anti-Obesity campaign in India in 2000, partnering with the Indian Medical Association, after being concerned about rising levels of obesity within the country. Since that date, the organisation has taken its taken to Oman and Bahrain, as well as the UAE.  This year, the UAE drive will also involve a ‘Cycle-a-thon,’ which will take place on December 18. The ten-kilometre bike ride will commence from Port Rashid and travel along the Jumeirah Beach Road, aiming to promote both a fun and healthy form of daily transport. “VLCC runs an annual Anti-Obesity drive to highlight what is an extremely important health topic,” said Mr. Ahuja. “We are committed to helping people who are overweight or obese shed the kilos by doing this in an inclusive and positive manner. We hope to show that support from friends and family can make all the difference,” he added. 

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