By | August 4, 2016

Questions about body weight evoke both anger and excitement, but many do not truly understand how being significantly overweight or obese impacts quality of life and longevity. Obesity is defined as having a body mass index (BMI) of more than 30, and morbid obesity is defined as having a BMI of more than 35, reports Healthline. As the BMI increases, the risk for developing chronic, life-threatening conditions increases, and obesity may exacerbate pre-existing conditions.

The basic problem with obesity is that once weight is gained, it is difficult to lose. However, every person who is overweight or obese can take steps to reach a healthier BMI. To improve the overall health of the community you serve, you need to understand the obesity epidemic, how it interacts with physical and mental health conditions and how you can encourage clients to make lifestyle changes before it is too late.

Obesity in the U.S.

More than 33 percent of US adults are obese, reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and obesity stands out as a contributor to the leading causes of preventable death. Yet, obesity does not affect all populations equally. The breakdown of how obesity affects difficult groups is as follows:

  • Non-Hispanic blacks experience the highest rate of obesity, 47.8 percent.
  • 42.5 percent of Hispanics suffer from obesity.
  • Obesity impacts the lives of 32.6 percent of non-Hispanic whites.
  • 10.8 percent of non-Hispanic Asians live with obesity.

Meanwhile, middle-age adults are more prone to be obese, but obesity goes on to affect 35.4 percent of adults over age 60.

The risk for obesity depends on genetic, environment and psychological factors. Those who have a family history of obesity are more likely to become overweight or obese. Environmental factors include those with a higher income and community eating habits. In other words, those who do not have access to healthy food or who do not know how to prepare healthy food are more likely to suffer from obesity.

The mind is also a powerful component of obesity, depression, anxiety and mental stress can evoke a desire to eat, which may lead to obesity. In addition, certain medications can result in weight gain. For example, oral contraceptives and antidepressants can increase your appetite and result in weight gain. However, the problem with obesity does not end with why you are eating more than your body needs.

Obesity Interacts With Physical and Mental Health Conditions

Obesity leads directly to additional health problems, including both mental and physical conditions. Moreover, the mental stress of being obese can further increase your BMI as you feel unable to address the problem. Yet, the first step is knowing how obesity connects to physical and mental health.

Physical Health and Obesity

Obesity and morbid obesity have been linked to a number of physical health problems, which include the following:

  • Type 2 diabetes.
  • Osteoarthritis.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Sleep apnea.
  • Hypertension.
  • Cancer.
  • Metabolic syndrome.
  • Gallstones.
  • Kidney and liver failure.
  • Stroke.
  • Heart disease.
  • Cholesterol problems.
  • Infertility and additional problems with both the male and female reproductive systems.

Mental Health and Obesity

Although obesity can cause the development of mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety, it can also result in another type of mental health condition, an eating disorder. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), the majority of those with binge-eating disorder are overweight or obese. Moreover, binge-eating disorder is the most common eating disorder in the U.S., which reflects the surge in prevalence of obesity.

Society has a tendency to believe the connection between eating and mental health disorders affects primarily women, but in reality, obesity can impact all genders, ages and ethnicities. For some, food becomes a coping mechanism, and for someone with a mental health disorder, the risk of overeating is dramatically heightened. Fortunately, there is never a time when lifestyle change is too late to fight obesity.

How to Help Clients With Obesity

Your clients depend on you to help them overcome their mental and physical health problems. However, simply advising clients to eat better only creates a hostile attitude toward weight loss. The true solution to obesity is lifestyle change, and you can your clients by taking the following steps:

  1. Help your clients locate and attend free cooking classes. Free cooking classes are practically everywhere. Some community colleges, grocery stores and churches often have cooking classes to help the community eat better.
  2. Take your own advice. Your clients do not only listen to you; they mirror your actions. When meeting with clients, try to only eat healthy, nutritious snacks and meals. If you have a high BMI, this small step will also help you attain a healthy weight.
  3. Exercise is required. Many clients may not want to exercise, and some may not be physically capable of performing strenuous activities. Small exercises, such as walking, should be a priority. Try to organize a walk or exercise class for your clients. It does not to be heavily aerobic; it only needs to involve some sort of physical movement.
  4. Teach clients how to shop healthy. Grocery stores are organized to encourage consumers to purchase processed products, which often contain excessive calories with little to no nutritional value. Sodas are a perfect example of a high-calorie, zero-nutritional value beverage. Encourage clients to shop the perimeter of the store, where produce, dairy, breads and meats are kept.
  5. Help clients interact in social settings. This sounds difficult, but it can be as simple as organizing a movie night for your clients. This will reduce the incidence of depression, and it will encourage your clients to spend more time with others.
  6. Consider surgical options last and only if necessary. Some clients may benefit from bariatric surgery, but it should be the last resort. Additionally, clients must be committed to lifestyle change before undergoing surgery. Failure to maintain a healthy lifestyle after the surgery can result in serious complications, which may include pancreatitis, rupture of the stomach and other damage to the body.

Final Thoughts

Obesity has been called a disease of civilization. More foods are available today than any other time in history, but many of these foods are rich in calories and poor in nutritional value. Meanwhile, the incentive to exercise seems to have been lost with the rise of the digital age. However, obesity is a killer, and your clients need to understand this fact. If you want to improve the health of the community you serve, you need to help your clients make a lifestyle change before obesity takes their lives.

Jason Vanover

Working in health care since 2005, Jason's body of experience encompasses dozens of care settings, including Senior care, psychiatric facilities, nonprofit health service centers, group homes for those with developmental disabilities and beyond. Jason understands the need to tailor his skills to each setting to encourage the best treatment outcomes and promote an inclusive, healing environment.

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