Health expert urges change of perception on obesity

By Lewis Kuchineyi

A health expert has said it is high time people must change perspective on obesity if the growing health challenge is to be combated.

Speaking on the side-lines of this year’s World Obesity Day commemorations, Beat Non-Communicable Diseases Zimbabwe Director Jacob Ngwenya has encouraged everyone to harness the power of conversations and storytelling through engaging in obesity related conversations.

Since 2015, World Obesity Day has been made an annual campaign aimed at encouraging and supporting practical actions to assist people in achieving and maintaining healthy weight, those receiving proper treatment as well as reversing the obesity crisis.

This year’s World Obesity Day theme ran under the banner, ‘Changing Perspectives: Let’s Talk about Obesity.’

The 2023 theme had the goal of changing the perspectives on obesity: correcting misconceptions, ending stigma, and shifting people’s single points of view to shared strategies.

 “Together we can correct misconceptions surrounding obesity, acknowledging its complexities so that we can all take effective and collective action against the epidemic. Because when we all talk, debate and share on obesity, we will be able to shift norms and transform health outcomes for everybody. This is not going to be easy, but difficult conversations help us to influence and mobilize policy initiatives; to upend misconceptions and turn words into action,” he said.

Ngwenya emphasized the need for more conversations that will be able to teach people about the biological, genetic and environmental complexities associated with obesity and tackle weight stigma caused by people’s misconceptions. 

“Let’s all talk about obesity to change perceptions at all levels from the individual to national level and help reduce the risk factors and impact of the disease,” he said.

Ngwenya explained that weight stigma greatly affects people living with obesity physically and emotionally who end up withdrawing from the society because of low self-esteem.

“Stigma associated barriers hinders the health seeking behaviors of people living with obesity. Changing our perceptions about obesity will see a drastic reduction of the disease as the modifiable risk factors will be tackled effectively. A supportive environment for obesity will definitely see better treatment outcomes,” he said.

Obesity is described as a mental condition of excess body weight that is found in the form of body fat and serious health problems are caused when this fat builds up.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) any body mass index (BMI) that is 25 or higher is considered overweight and a BMI of 30 and above is considered as obesity.

Obesity has become a global threat in recent decades because of the increased consumption of energy-dense foods that are high in fat and free sugars. Obesity is caused by an imbalance in the calories consumed and those expended.

In recent years, there has been a decrease in physical activity because of the many types of work, an increase in the access to transportation anywhere as well as increased urbanization.

Obesity has become an epidemic, with more than 4 million succumbing to being overweight or obese.

According to WHO statistics, the overweight or obesity prevalence rate in children and adolescents has seen an increase from 4% to 18% between the years 1975 and 2016. And the vast majority of these obese or overweight children and adolescents are found in developing countries.

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