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Making a case for public awareness and education about obesity

From dietary education in schools to public awareness campaigns on early signs of obesity, here are ideas to stem the rise of the lifestyle disease

More than half of Indian adults suffer from obesity and excessive belly fat according to data from a recent National Family Health Survey
More than half of Indian adults suffer from obesity and excessive belly fat according to data from a recent National Family Health Survey (Unsplash/Towfiqu Barbhuiya )

In a world where well-being is top priority, the current state of global health remains overshadowed by the alarming rise of obesity. The importance of boosting public awareness and educating people about obesity cannot be reiterated enough, considering how we have to deal with the effects of sedentary habits and unhealthy dietary choices every day. 

Also read: The tangled link between obesity and mental health

Being overweight is not a cosmetic issue alone, it has severe consequences on a person's health. The likelihood of acquiring chronic conditions like diabetes, heart problems, and cancer increases as the values on the weighing scale rise. Furthermore, it is impossible to ignore the emotional burden because obesity worsens psychological conditions like depression and anxiety.  As a surgeon who has seen the effects that obesity wreaks on our bodies, here are a few suggestions that I believe can help us establish a disease-free and active lifestyle.

Current state of obesity awareness in India
Public awareness and education about obesity are crucial in our country owing to the increasing prevalence of this condition and its associated health risks. Several studies highlight the poor understanding of the obesity cause and preventive measures among the Indian population, particularly women. A 2015 survey of urban married women in India found low awareness of obesity-related issues, with perceptions varying based on BMI differences.

Additionally, childhood obesity has become a significant public health problem in India, with a 2015 study emphasising the need to address the issue through healthcare policies. More than half of Indian adults suffer from obesity and excessive belly fat according to the National Family Health Survey done in 2019-2021. Thus highlighting the dominance of these conditions in the country. A study by Venkatrao et al in 2020 (Prevalence of Obesity in India and Its Neurological Implications: A Multifactor Analysis of a Nationwide Cross-Sectional Study) found that obesity in India is prevalent at 40.3%, with regional variations. The southern parts have an incidence of 46.51%, with the lowest in the east at 32.96%. In this context, the importance of public awareness and education about obesity cannot be overstated.

Understanding the scale of the problem
Lifestyle changes are primarily to blame for a surge in obesity rates triggered by the increased dependency on junk food and a lack of regular physical activity. Major medical complications include hyperglycaemia and cardiovascular disease. Increasing public education and offering people the power to make intelligent life choices are key to solving this issue successfully.

Obesity and food away from home, a 2021 study by Christoph Strupat of German Development Institute and team, highlighted the differences in obesity prevalence among varying socio-economic domains. The research showed that poor and middle-income women are more likely to be obese, with 10-15% of this difference attributed to differences in diet quality in the food environment. It reveals disparities in lower socio-economic status like inadequate healthcare and knowledge. These are mainly due to inaccessibility or medical expenditure subsequently contributing to unhealthy weight gain.

Also read: Changing avatars of the body positivity movement

With enough studies to prove obesity's ill-effects, what is needed is a planned educational programme that includes the following components: 

Nutritional Literacy: Incorporating dietary education into school curriculums and public programs is crucial. Understanding the basics of nutrition empowers individuals to make healthier food choices, thereby promoting obesity prevention.

Physical Activity Promotion: Schools and communities can play a pivotal role in encouraging fitness. Educational programs that emphasise the importance of regular exercise and its impact on overall health can instill lifelong habits.

Mental Health Awareness: Education about the psychological aspects of obesity is essential. Teaching coping mechanisms, stress management, and fostering a positive body image are crucial components of a comprehensive approach to obesity prevention.

Access to Resources: There are public resources available, such as community fitness programs, nutritional counselling, and mental health services. Educating people regarding the same ensures they have the support needed to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Also read: Decoding the role of sleep in weight loss maintenance

In addition to educating the general populace, we also need public awareness campaigns for the following key reasons: 

Lifestyle Modification: Public awareness campaigns are vital in educating individuals about maintaining a healthy lifestyle. By understanding the link between diet, physical activity, and obesity, people can make informed decisions to prevent its onset.

Health Impact: Along with the widely recognised risks, obesity increases the chance of acquiring hypertension, fatty liver, sleep apnea, and joint issues like arthritis or gout. Comprehensive public health policies must address and mitigate these distinct physiological effects.

Healthcare Availability: Educating the public about the early signs of obesity and its related health risks facilitates early intervention. This awareness can prompt individuals to seek medical advice and support, preventing the progression of the condition.

Reduce Stigma, Promote Empathy: Obesity is often accompanied by social stigma, which can negatively impact the mental health of affected individuals. Public awareness campaigns help dispel myths and foster empathy, encouraging a more understanding and supportive community.

In the battle against obesity, public awareness and education are powerful weapons. By providing individuals with the necessary knowledge and tools for healthier choices, society can work together to prevent obesity. Governments, healthcare professionals, educators, and communities must collaborate to develop a holistic policy that addresses the root causes of obesity and stimulates a healthy present and future generation.

Dr Aman Priya Khanna is a General, Laser, Bariatric, and Minimal Access Surgeon. He is also co-founder and medical director of HexaHealth.

Also read:  How fasting could improve gut health of obese people



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