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Anti-Obesity Day: Impact of stigma and misperceptions on obesity care in India

The burden of obesity in India extends beyond physical health. The societal stigma and misconceptions surrounding obesity impede effective care and exacerbate the challenges faced by individuals seeking support. Addressing these issues demands concerted efforts from society, healthcare professionals

Written By : India TV Lifestyle Desk Edited By : Sakshi Verma
New Delhi
Published on: November 26, 2023 7:00 IST
Anti-Obesity Day 2023
Image Source : FREEPIK Anti-Obesity Day 2023

Obesity, once considered rare in India, has now become a pervasive health concern. The prevalence of obesity has surged significantly over the past few decades, escalating at an alarming rate. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), India has witnessed a substantial rise in obesity cases, with approximately 135 million obese individuals. Factors such as urbanization, sedentary lifestyles, dietary changes, and genetic predispositions contribute to this concerning trend. However, the challenges faced in combating obesity extend beyond physical health. According to Dr. Vikas Singhal, GI Oncology and Bariatric Surgery, Institute of Digestive and Hepatobiliary Sciences, Medanta, Gurugram, the societal stigma and misconceptions surrounding obesity cast a shadow on effective care and management. This stigma adds to the burden of individuals seeking assistance, complicating the already complex landscape of obesity care in India.

Societal stigma and its impact on obesity care

Dr. Vikas Singhal believes that societal attitudes toward obesity often breed discrimination, making individuals hesitant to seek healthcare support. People living with obesity in India encounter prejudice, mockery, and discrimination on multiple fronts, including workplaces, social circles, and even healthcare settings. This societal disdain cultivates a toxic environment, discouraging affected individuals from pursuing necessary medical guidance and support.

Common misconceptions exacerbate the plight of those grappling with obesity. In many Indian communities, there's a prevailing belief that obesity solely stems from personal choices, laziness, or lack of willpower. Such misinformed notions overshadow the complex interplay of genetic, environmental, and physiological factors contributing to obesity. These misconceptions hinder effective care by overlooking the multifaceted nature of this condition.

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Stigma, mental health, and healthcare outcomes

The link between obesity-related stigma and mental health repercussions is profound. Individuals facing societal ridicule due to their weight often experience anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, and social isolation. This detrimental cycle adversely affects healthcare outcomes, leading to avoidance of seeking medical help, worsening conditions, and a higher healthcare burden for the country.

Profound mental health impact:

  • Anxiety and depression: Individuals with obesity often face societal ridicule, leading to heightened levels of anxiety and depression.
  • Low self-esteem: Constant judgment and stigma surrounding weight contribute to reduced self-worth and self-esteem among affected individuals.
  • Social isolation: Stigmatization often results in social exclusion, leaving individuals feeling isolated and disconnected from their support networks.

Adverse effects on healthcare outcomes:

  • Avoidance of medical help: Due to the fear of judgment and negative experiences, individuals may avoid seeking medical assistance for obesity-related concerns.
  • Worsening health conditions: Delayed or inadequate medical attention results in the exacerbation of obesity-related health issues such as cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, joint problems, and mental health disorders.
  • Increased healthcare burden: The reluctance to seek help prolongs the progression of obesity-related complications, imposing a heavier burden on the healthcare system due to advanced and complex health conditions.
  • Psychological impact: The stigma creates a cycle where psychological distress further deters individuals from seeking necessary healthcare interventions.
  • Challenges in treatment: Mental health repercussions interfere with the individual's ability to adhere to treatment plans effectively, hindering positive health outcomes.

Barriers to accessing care:

  • Stigma as a Barrier: Stigmatization becomes a significant barrier to accessing healthcare facilities and services, impeding the early detection and management of obesity-related issues.
  • Impact on Health-Seeking Behavior: Negative experiences due to stigma alter health-seeking behaviors, leading to a reluctance to engage with healthcare professionals or services for weight management.

Need for holistic approaches:

  • Integrated mental health support: Addressing mental health concerns alongside obesity treatment is crucial for better health outcomes and improved adherence to medical advice.
  • Supportive environments: Creating supportive environments within healthcare settings, free from judgment and stigma, encourages individuals to seek timely and appropriate care for obesity.

Initiatives to combat stigma

  • To address this issue, a multi-pronged approach is imperative. Public awareness campaigns aimed at dispelling myths about obesity should be launched. Educational programs focusing on holistic health, nutrition, and exercise, devoid of judgment, could help foster a more understanding society. Moreover, creating safe spaces and support groups for individuals battling obesity can provide the necessary encouragement and resources.
  • Furthermore, healthcare providers play a pivotal role in mitigating the impact of societal attitudes toward obesity. Training programs for medical professionals to approach obesity with empathy, free from bias, are crucial. Encouraging open dialogues, offering personalized care plans, and emphasizing the importance of mental health alongside physical well-being are essential steps toward a more inclusive healthcare environment.
  • The burden of obesity in India extends beyond physical health. The societal stigma and misconceptions surrounding obesity impede effective care and exacerbate the challenges faced by individuals seeking support. Addressing these issues demands concerted efforts from society, healthcare professionals, policymakers, and individuals alike. By fostering a more compassionate and informed approach, India can better support those affected by obesity and alleviate the healthcare burden associated with this complex condition.
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