Obesity has become a global epidemic responsible for the deaths of over 2.8 million people worldwide each year.[1]  The Health Survey for England in 2019 estimated that 36.2% of English adults are overweight and a further 28.0% are obese. To be classified as overweight, a person’s BMI needs to be between 25 and 30, and obese is characterised by a BMI of over 30 and above.[2]

This is a major risk factor for a variety of chronic illnesses, including diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular disease. Medical complications are also common in those who are overweight or obese which include, hypertension, gallbladder disease, fatty liver, furred arteries (atherosclerosis), abnormal endocrine functioning, compromised immune systems, and osteoarthritis.

In my role as a Food Addiction Coach, I find that my clients not only struggle with physical issues but with widespread negative stigma. This social stigma and bias can cause serious psychological issues and mental health disorders, including depression, low self-esteem, anxiety, and eating disorders such as binge eating, bulimia, and anorexia. You can find out more about food addiction and how to help your clients through my certified Food Addiction Accelerator Program.

Together we will explore the various impacts that obesity has on a person’s mental health.

Social Stigma

Stigma is considered a fundamental cause of various health inequalities. It is evidenced that obesity stigma contributes to significant psychological issues, including decreased self-esteem, depression, anxiety, disordered eating, decreased self-care, and an avoidance of physical activity and medical care.[3]

We live in a society that focuses on the idea of perfection and where body image and weight contribute to an individual’s value.  A qualitative analysis of social media content demonstrated a persistent theme of prejudice towards obesity.[4] Stigmatised content in the media encourages the public perception that people that suffer from are greedy, lazy, unattractive, unlikeable, and unintelligent.[5]

Obesity stigma is ubiquitous, with individuals facing stigma not only from the media but also employers, teachers, health professionals, and friends and family.  A recent study demonstrated that 18.7% of individuals with obesity experience stigma.[6] For those with severe obesity, the figure was considerably greater at 38%. This can lead to people feeling ostracised, isolated, unliked and unvalued.

The effects of obesity stigma and weight bias are especially severe for children, with research evidencing that not only are they at high risk of developing mental health issues, but they are also likely to suffer from a lack of emotional support and diminished cognitive function. Studies have shown that school children that suffer from obesity are 63% more likely to be bullied both in traditional forms and online.[7]  Bullying is a traumatic experience, and when combined with weight bias, it can lead to feelings of shame, guilt, the emergence of eating disorders, and even trigger self-harming behaviours and suicide.

School children that struggle with obesity additionally suffer from weight-biased attitudes from teachers.  This can involve neglecting the child, encouraging perceptions of low self-worth, and fostering a sense of low expectation. This can affect a child’s opportunities and life chances, leading to further social and health inequalities due to their lack of confidence and low self-esteem.


Obesity discrimination is widely prevalent and exacerbated by the perpetuated stigmatised notions.  People face bias and discrimination in a wide variety of settings from school, work, social situations and at home.

  • Teenagers struggling with obesity applying for university were found to be significantly less likely to be offered a place post-interview in comparison to their healthy-weight peers.[8]
  • Adults suffering with obesity are less likely to be offered employment or considered for promotion due to the perception that they are lazy, less successful, and lack leadership qualities.[9]
  • Overweight men and women are less likely to date, find a partner or get married.[10]

Discrimination and weight bias affect all aspects of an obese person’s life, resulting in them having fewer opportunities and diminished emotional connection, contributing to low self-esteem and depression.

Decreased Energy

In obesity, more calories are consumed than used, which might lead one to think there is excess energy. However, often my clients tend to suffer from fatigue and decreased physical endurance. The reason for this is rather complex, but in short, there is a chain of metabolic results that lead to diminished energy levels as the body saves energy to sustain the metabolic functions of cells.[11]

These reduced energy levels impact the individual both physiologically and psychologically. A person that has obesity is less likely to be active as it requires significant effort, so will instead gravitate towards a more sedentary lifestyle. Exercise releases endorphins that make us feel joyful, connected, and alive and provide an opportunity to release psychological stress and tension from our bodies. Even daily tasks can become a challenge and result in exhaustion and low self-esteem. Therefore, a low-activity lifestyle results in a deterioration of a person’s mental health as well as the risk of a person putting on more weight and exacerbating obesity stigma and bias.


Obesity can become a progressive disease with long-term physiological and psychological complications. In my role as a Food Addiction Coach, I explain to my clients that their weight is not the issue; it is the client’s addiction to food and the root cause which needs to be investigated, identified, and supported through to recovery. In my work, I do not advocate fad diets or food restriction as this will cause emotional anxiety and will not be sustainable for long-term change. The stigma and bias which people face keeps them trapped in a cycle of guilt and shame.

By educating yourself with as much training and reading around this subject as possible, you can begin to recognise the underlying issues surrounding your clients eating habits. This will enable you to help create long-term transformation in their mind and body and guide them towards a life free from the trauma that obesity can bring.


[1]World Obesity Day: Understanding The Social Consequences Of Obesity“. Euro.Who.Int, 2019, https://www.euro.who.int/en/health-topics/noncommunicable-diseases/mental-health/news/news/2017/10/world-obesity-day-understanding-the-social-consequences-of-obesity.

[2] Baker, Carl. “Obesity Statistics“. House Of Commons Library, 2021, https://commonslibrary.parliament.uk/research-briefings/sn03336/.

[3]World Obesity Day: Understanding The Social Consequences Of Obesity“. Euro.Who.Int, 2019, https://www.euro.who.int/en/health-topics/noncommunicable-diseases/mental-health/news/news/2017/10/world-obesity-day-understanding-the-social-consequences-of-obesity.

[4] Chou, Wen-ying Sylvia et al. “Obesity In Social Media: A Mixed Methods Analysis”. Translational Behavioral Medicine, vol 4, no. 3, 2014, pp. 314-323. Oxford University Press (OUP), doi:10.1007/s13142-014-0256-1. Accessed 17 June 2021.

[5] Lydecker, Janet A. et al. “Does This Tweet Make Me Look Fat? A Content Analysis Of Weight Stigma On Twitter”. Eating And Weight Disorders – Studies On Anorexia, Bulimia And Obesity, vol 21, no. 2, 2016, pp. 229-235. Springer Science And Business Media LLC, doi:10.1007/s40519-016-0272-x. Accessed 17 June 2021.

[6] Sikorski, C et al. “Weight-Based Discrimination: An Ubiquitary Phenomenon?”. International Journal Of Obesity, vol 40, no. 2, 2015, pp. 333-337. Springer Science And Business Media LLC, doi:10.1038/ijo.2015.165. Accessed 17 June 2021.

[7] Lee, Byung et al. “Association Between Body Mass Index And Health Outcomes Among Adolescents: The Mediating Role Of Traditional And Cyber Bullying Victimization”. BMC Public Health, vol 18, no. 1, 2018. Springer Science And Business Media LLC, doi:10.1186/s12889-018-5390-0. Accessed 17 June 2021.

[8] Burmeister, Jacob M. et al. “Weight Bias In Graduate School Admissions”. Obesity, vol 21, no. 5, 2013, pp. 918-920. Wiley, doi:10.1002/oby.20171. Accessed 17 June 2021.

[9] Flint, Stuart W. et al. “Obesity Discrimination In The Recruitment Process: “You’Re Not Hired!””. Frontiers In Psychology, vol 7, 2016. Frontiers Media SA, doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2016.00647. Accessed 17 June 2021.

[10] Neymotin, Florence. “Adolescent Obesity: A Barrier To Mate Selection?”. Journal Of Child And Adolescent Behaviour, vol 02, no. 04, 2014. OMICS Publishing Group, doi:10.4172/2375-4494.1000157. Accessed 17 June 2021.

[11] Wlodek, Danuta, and Michael Gonzales. “Decreased Energy Levels Can Cause And Sustain Obesity”. Journal Of Theoretical Biology, vol 225, no. 1, 2003, pp. 33-44. Elsevier BV, doi:10.1016/s0022-5193(03)00218-2. Accessed 17 June 2021.