Psychological Effects of Obesity
Being severely obese has serious psychological and social repercussions. Many people who are overweight are subject to disapproval, even lectures, from family and friends and to sneers and remarks from strangers. Such behavior is propagated by the general societal belief that obesity is caused by a lack of self-discipline or moral weakness. These attitudes carry over into the work world, where a job or a promotion is often denied simply because of how much one weighs.
Not surprising, many obese people prefer not to go out in public because they feel self-conscious or they simply cannot enjoy activities that most people take for granted, like going to the movies, taking the subway, or going on vacation – because the seats are too small, the turnstiles are too narrow, or the accommodations are too uncomfortable.
All these experiences, repeated day after day for years, can lead to depression, anxiety, or low self-esteem. In one study, severely obese persons were asked to choose between being obese or having some other infirmity. The results were astounding. By and large, the respondents said that they would rather be blind or have one leg amputated than be at their present weight. Most interestingly, everyone said they would rather be poor and thin than rich and overweight.
A 1991 study showed that 80 percent of severely obese people:
- perceive themselves as physically unattractive
- believe that others make disparaging comments about their weight
- dislike being seen in public
- feel discrimination when applying for jobs
- feel that they are treated disrespectfully by their physician
Indeed, several studies suggest that many physicians do treat obese patients disrespectfully. In a 1969 survey of physicians, obese patients were described as “weak-willed,” “ugly,” “awkward,” and “self-indulgent.” In a more recent physician survey, one of three doctors said they respond negatively to obesity, behind three other diagnostic/social categories: drug addiction, alcoholism, and mental illness. A comparable study found that two-thirds of doctors believe obese patients lack self-control, and 39 percent feel they are lazy. Two studies of nurses showed similar results.
The truth of the matter is that morbid obesity is a chronic medical illness, although a good portion of society and the health-care establishment does not seem to agree.