Obesity has become one of the most prevalent chronic disorders in the 21st century. For instance, around two-thirds of the US adult population are overweight or obese (Barkin, Heerman, Warren & Rennhoff, 2010). Historically, people have had different views on the matter as, in some cultures or some epochs (for example, Renaissance), being overweight was regarded as normal and even desirable. However, contemporary researchers have proved that obesity has various adverse effects on people’s physical health and psychological wellbeing. This paper provides a brief description of the most significant physical and psychological consequences of this disorder.
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First, it is necessary to define the term obesity and identify major reasons for its development. Obesity is a chronic condition “that results in an accumulation of adipose (fat tissue), whether due to increased caloric intake and/or a decreased expenditure of calories” (Karasu, 2012, p. 111). Karasu (2012, p. 111) also adds that the disorder can be regarded as a result of “a physiological energy imbalance.” Importantly, researchers’ views on the causes of the disorder differ.
For example, some researchers even think that obesity should not be seen as a disorder as it is rather a consequence of insufficient self-care and the lack of self-control. Others believe that obesity is a disorder predetermined by such factors as ethnicity, race and sex (Karasu, 2012). Some also stress that people have different responses to particular types of products as they cannot adapt to the new types of food. Dallman et al. (2003) state that obesity can be a result of psychological issues as people may become binge eaters when trying to cope with stress.
Some researchers claim that environment is one of the major factors contributing to the development of obesity as people may be unaware of the hazards associated with the food they consume, and add that stricter regulations on labelling should be introduced. In this paper, obesity is seen as a disorder that may be caused by a variety of reasons.
Whatever the reason for the development of the disease is, obesity has a considerable impact on people’s psychological and physical wellbeing. It is widely known that obesity leads to such health issues as high blood pressure, dyslipidamia and heart disorders (Chan, 2008). These health conditions are linked to excessive body weight and lack of physical activity. The imbalance of body weight also impairs insulin sensitivity, which leads to the development of diabetes (Kalavainen, Utriainen, Vanninen, Korppi & Nuutinen, 2012). Importantly, adults, as well as adolescents, are vulnerable to the development of the disorders mentioned above.
Cancer is another significant risk factors related to obesity. Obese people are at a higher risk of developing cancer, and women are especially prone to the development of breast cancer (Cardozo et al., 2013). One of the most serious effects on women’s health is associated with the female reproductive system. Thus, the disorder significantly increases the risk of infertility, miscarriage, birth defects and stillbirth (Cardozo et al., 2013). The researchers note that females are often aware of these negative consequences, which contributes to the development of depression.
Furthermore, obesity is associated with the impairment of skeletal health. Forhan and Gill (2013) state that obese people are more likely to develop knee osteoarthritis than their peers with normal weight. Clearly, this is especially true for older populations. In children and adolescents, obesity often results in impaired bone development, which may have various negative effects in adulthood. Some researchers also note that obesity may have detrimental effects on cognitive functions. Thus, some studies have shown that obese people performed worse than their peers with normal weight (Forhan & Gill, 2013). However, more research is required to evaluate this correlation.
It is necessary to add that childhood and adolescent obesity is associated with a high premature mortality rate in adulthood. Reilly and Kelly (2011) implemented a detailed analysis of the existing research on the matter and concluded that there is a significant pool of evidence revealing the correlation between childhood obesity and a higher rate of premature mortality in adulthood. Another important finding related to different age groups is that obesity leads to the development of different disorders in adults and the elderly. Thus, while obesity in adults contributes to the development of hypertension, diabetes and cancer, obese elderly are more likely to develop osteoporosis and physical function impairments (Brown & Kuk, 2014).
It is necessary to note that the psychological consequences of obesity have acquired significant attention recently. It has been acknowledged that obese people’s psychological wellbeing is often impaired. Karasu (2012) state that depression, anxiety and body image concerns are typical psychological issues associated with obesity in adults. At that, the researcher also states that these conditions are rather typical for patients who “present for medical or surgical evaluation” (Karasu, 2012).
Conversely, Fabricatore and Wadden (2004) state that there is a strong correlation between depression and obesity in women, especially in those suffering from severe obesity. At the same time, the correlation between depressive conditions and obesity is less vivid in men. Stunkard, Faith and Allison (2003) state that the correlation is apparent as only a part of people suffering from depression address professionals. The researchers stress that obese people often feel depressed and may even develop suicidal ideas.
Notably, researchers focusing on the psychological effects of obesity often refer to public opinion concerning overweight and obese people. Fabricatore and Wadden (2004) note that obese people are often stigmatized and discriminated. More so, even healthcare professionals may display negative attitudes towards obese people. Wardle and Cooke (2005) stress that peer pressure and particular standards put obese children and adolescents (especially girls) at risk of developing depression and anxiety. Rojas and Storch (2010) also claim that standards of beauty lead to the development of depression in adolescents who are dissatisfied with their body.
The disorder may have a specifically detrimental impact on the psychological development of adolescents. Just as with adults, obese adolescents often are vulnerable to the development of depression and anxiety. However, these conditions often have more significant consequences for this population (Rojas & Storch, 2010). It has been acknowledged that girls are more prone to the development of depression (Wardle & Cooke, 2005). Body dissatisfaction is one of the most common psychological issues adolescents face. Depression and anxiety may lead to the development of suicidal ideas, dysfunctional behaviour, violence and so on. Peer victimization is another serious issue overweight and obese adolescents face.
Decreased self-esteem is a result of peer pressure, teasing or even bullying. Rojas and Storch (2010) emphasize that peer relationships are especially important in this period of people’s lives, and impaired relationships often lead to the development of a variety of psychological disorders in adulthood. Rojas and Storch (2010) state that obese adolescents have significantly lower self-esteem compared to their peers. Conversely, Wardle and Cooke (2005) argue that obese adolescents and children do not necessarily display lower self-esteem. At that, the researchers note that higher self-esteem is often evident in adolescents and children who are losing weight or participate in weight-related programs (Wardle & Cooke, 2005).
In conclusion, it is possible to note that obesity has various effects on people’s physical and psychological health. Thus, some of the most serious physical consequences are the development of cardiovascular disorders, diabetes, skeletal issues and cancer. The female reproductive system is severely affected by obesity. In children and adolescents, obesity may be associated with a higher rate of premature mortality in adulthood. As for psychological issues related to obesity, these are depression and anxiety.
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The most vulnerable groups are females, children and adolescents. It is necessary to add that researchers have quite different views on the psychological impact of obesity. Some stress that there is a vivid link between obesity and depression, while others note that obese patients often display a similar degree of depression as patients suffering from other disorders. Clearly, more research is necessary to understand the particular effects of obesity on people’s psychological and physical wellbeing.
However, major areas to consider have been identified (diabetes, cardiovascular disorders, depression). It is also important to add that researchers tend to link the development of psychological disorders with public opinion on obesity. The existing view is very negative, which contributes to the development of depression and anxiety. Thus, it is important to make sure there are steps aimed at changing public opinion on the matter.
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