Manila, Philippines – Obesity, defined by the WHO as abnormal or excessive fat accumulation, is a disease that leads to life-altering and potentially fatal consequences. It is the gateway to heart disease, various types of cancer, and diabetes. Six out of 12 obesity-related cancers are rising fastest among the millennial age group. In the Philippines alone, 33.2 million individuals live with this disease.
Obesity in Philippine society and its relation to mental health
One in three adult Filipinos has obesity. These cases are clustered in urban areas, namely Metro and Mega Manila, Cebu and Central Visayas, and Davao and Northern Mindanao.
Filipino society does not handle obesity issues well. Overweight individuals often receive comments like “tumaba ka” or “magpapapayat ka nga.” These weight-related biases are an example of the stigma that people with obesity face every day, all of which contribute to feelings of depression. This results in individuals with low self-esteem and poor body image, and who are less inclined to find solutions and support.
Research has shown a correlation between obesity and mental health problems. Published data documents a 55% increased risk of developing depression over time in people with obesity, while people who were depressed had a 58% increased risk of developing obesity.
Obesity in the “New Normal”
Obesity increases the risk of developing severe COVID-19 symptoms and triples the risk of requiring hospitalization. Additionally, an individual with obesity may have an impaired immune system and decreased lung capacity, which can make ventilation more difficult.
The Philippines is now recognized as having the longest lockdown in the world. The limitations on mobility minimize physical activity, with most citizens working from home. Coupled with stress and boredom from the constant confinement, these conditions contribute to an increase in food intake. Stress eating, snacking, and getting fast food deliveries in an attempt to reclaim normalcy have resulted in unhealthy lockdown lifestyles. This puts Filipinos at a higher risk of developing obesity and facing complications should they contract COVID-19.
The current generation is often credited with driving the global wellness market. The popularity of yoga, intermittent fasting, Keto diet, and other weight loss fads promise quick returns. However, these contribute to the misconception that obesity is an issue of physical appearance and simply requires a change in lifestyle.
There is a need to create awareness for obesity as a medical concern. It is important to educate Filipinos about how obesity is a disease that interrupts the metabolic, biomechanical, and mental health of a person. Heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and the higher incidence of stroke, all begin with obesity.
Finally, it’s important to separate the person from the disease. They are not obese people but rather, people with obesity. The first step to healing and the right path to wellness is awareness and acceptance, and that obesity, while a challenge, can be solved.