Obesity as a chronic condition is characterized by an excess of body fat (Sheperd, 2009). Most obese individuals suffer from metabolic disorders such as diabetes type 2, dyslipidemia, or hypertension (Bluher, n.d.). Obesity involves various factors that require a whole person diagnosis and treatment from a biopsychosocial (BPS) perspective.
Biopsychosocial reasons for obesity
Obesity can be the result of eating disorders or it can contribute to the development of eating disorders such as binge-eating disorder (BED) or bulimia nervosa. BED and food addiction (FA) are common in obesity and are related to psychopathologies such as depression, emotion dysregulation, and lowered self-esteem. Because FA isn’t a recognized clinical diagnosis, many individuals may not receive psychological support as part of obesity intervention (Ivezaj, White, and Grilo, 2016). Declaring obesity as an addiction could further stigmatize individuals though, instead of emphasizing population-level policy measures (Rasmussen, 2015) addressing the evidence that highly processed foods may play a role in activating an addictive-like behavior (Polk, Schulte, Furman, and Gearhardt, 2016). The central nervous system can be affected by failures of properly regulating feeding behavior and metabolism (Jurd, 2013). A balanced calories intake and expenditure is also significantly influenced by a personal lifestyle. Davis, Patte, Curtis, and Reid (2010) mention obesity’s association with lower socioeconomic status (SES) and related low educational achievement. Similarly, socioeconomically disadvantaged children are more likely to become obese adults (Chaffee, Abrams, Cohen, and Rehkopf, 2015). SES often results in unhealthy lifestyles due to a lack of seeing alternatives or due to unaffordability of healthier choices.
Consequences of obesity
The biological risks of obesity comprise, according to The European Commission (2005), of type 2 diabetes hypertension, respiratory diseases, cardiovascular diseases, some cancers, and osteoarthritis. Psychological and social factors may be at the same time reason and consequence of obesity; for example, extreme overweight may lower self-esteem and confidence in social interactions, what can lead to problems in family, relationship, and work environment, all negatively reacting to eating behavior (Heras, 2010).
An evolving intervention example
Children and adolescents, men who tend to consult less frequently, and extreme obese cases warrant special attention and treatments. For example, bariatric surgery and drug prescription mitigate extreme and immediate health risks effectively. Psychological treatment is suggested to support healthy long-term solutions. In addition to more established practices such as psychological acceptance and mindfulness therapy (O’Brian et al., 2016), Stapleton (2016) presents the Emotional freedom techniques (EFT). EFT is an increasingly accepted evidence-based meridian-based technique in the area of energy psychology. It brings eating behavior into relationships with self-esteem, self-compassion, and psychological distress (Stapleton, 2016). It could be beneficial to integrate EFT with Family Based Treatment (FBT) (Harris and Steele (2014), to make use of it in non-clinical settings too.
Conclusion: The treatment of obesity with its various possible reasons requires a whole person approach from a BPS perspective. New psychological approaches may be efficient and effective complements to traditional interventions. On societal level, education, a healthy environment and health products and services need to be accessible to everyone.
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