Obesity is a Disease

It was the first line I heard from an eminent surgeon when he spoke on bariatric surgery(weight loss) to combat morbid obesity. It opened our eyes to some serious problems in handling the social side of the problem. Obese patients hated to come through the front door, for example. They wanted private entrances where they would not be observed. Visit the hospital at a time when there weren’t other general patients around. They constantly lived in fear of ridicule. They would step around the fact and avoid discussion within their circle of family and friends. They would look for ways to avoid going out in public and interacting with new people. They were afraid to sit in the regular waiting rooms because they were not sure that normal chairs would support their weight.

Health problems get compounded with obesity. In India, a chubby child is seen as ‘healthy’ – when there is enough evidence to indicate that childhood obesity is a precursor to obesity as an adult. It’s not just the external appearance. Obesity puts immense pressure on all internal organs apart from knees, elbows, and ankles. Most obese patients are prone to diabetes and heart disease and these are reversible if they lose the weight necessary before major damage is done. But they are not open to discussing this with people who can make a difference to their health and self-esteem. It’s another one of the taboos like dark skin. The one that is hard to talk about and looms like a dark cloud over their lives.

Recently, BBC reported how ambulances are being completely redesigned in the UK to transport obese patients to hospitals. It presents the seriousness of the issues that confront us today if obesity affects a large set of the population. Communicating this requires sensitivity and understanding. Sadly, we are still at the stage of using clever advertising that makes cosmetic sense and wins awards. Tackling obesity requires the kind of effort that made smoking unacceptable and helped cut down the number of addicts and the resultant health problems.