In the modern world, we are faced with a twofold state of affairs in terms of the problem of overweight and obesity. On the one hand, long hours spent in front of computer screens contributing to a sedentary lifestyle, readily available and relatively inexpensive modified foods rich in carbohydrates and fats, and the ability to travel by car or public transportation are all conducive to increasing body fat of the average member of society. Many people today work in offices or from home, commute to workplaces by motor vehicles, spend their leisure time in an inactive manner due to an illusory sense of fatigue, and eat an irregular, highly processed and calorie-dense diet. On the other hand, the media’s promotion of healthy lifestyles rich in physical activity and wholesome foods, and the ideals of an athletic, lean body that are being disseminated, warn against taking actions that can lead to dangerous weight gain. In the social media space, images of happy and muscular influencers leading active lifestyles and taking the time to eat rationally are promoted. The juxtaposition of the above trends in today’s reality makes us reflect on the real scale of the problem, which is overweight and obesity. Which lifestyle is representative of the population? Are the behaviors undertaken by influencers effective in inspiring the public to lead a healthy lifestyle? This article will discuss the issue of excessive body fat, the causes and psycho-physical effects of overweight and obesity, statistics on the problem, and address the effectiveness of prevention and treatment.

Overweight and obesity can be classified as a group of diseases of civilization, that is, chronic non-communicable diseases that pose a threat to human health and life. In order to assess the extent of these health disorders, centile grids, the BMI body mass index or, in rare cases, so-called phaldomyers are used[1]. A commonly used method of examining the extent of the problem, which is also recommended by the World Health Organization, is the BMI body mass index, understood as the quotient of actual weight (presented in kilograms) and the square of height (included in meters). Index values between 20 and 25 are seen as appropriate. When the BMI is between 25 and 30 overweight is diagnosed, while when it takes values above 30 obesity is diagnosed. There are two types of obesity in the population: simple – which is influenced by diet and genetic predisposition (metabolic rate in the family) – and secondary – resulting from chronic diseases or the treatment of them. In adults, obesity is diagnosed when the amount of body fat is greater than 30% of the expected body weight for women or 25% of the relevant body weight when it comes to men. Diagnosis in children depends on age and gender. In 1997, the World Health Organization recognized obesity as a problem of epidemic proportions and as one of the key threats to human health and life[2]. A 2016 study by the organization found that the obesity problem has nearly tripled since 1975, 1.9 billion people (39% of the world’s adult population) over the age of 18 are overweight, and 650 million of them (13% of the world’s adult population) are obese. As for children and adolescents aged 5-19, it turns out that more than 340 million weigh too much or suffer from obesity. A 2016 Polish study by the NCD Risk Factor Collaboration found that 53% of adult women and 68% of adult men are overweight, while 23% of women and 25% of men are obese. As for the young – under the age of 20 – the findings suggest that 20% of girls and 31% of boys are overweight, while 5% of young girls and 13% of boys suffer from obesity[3].

A World Health Organization report shows that the main cause of overweight and obesity is an energy imbalance between calories taken in and calories consumed. This imbalance is caused by increased consumption of high-calorie foods rich in fats and sugars and increased levels of physical inactivity2. From a chemical perspective, excessive weight gain is led by a dysregulation of the hunger and satiety centers, which are located in the brain (in the hypothalamus, limbic system, olfactory cortex and cerebral cortex). These centers are informed by chemical compounds (e.g., sugars, fats, proteins) and by neurotransmitters about the satiated state of the body. Craving is primarily stimulated by norepinephrine, and inhibited by serotonin and dopamine1. Disregulated functioning of these systems, caused by various factors, can lead to abnormal excessive weight gain.

Suffering from overweight or obesity carries serious consequences, primarily in the area of physical health. The problem of excessive weight increases the likelihood of cardiovascular diseases such as myocardial infarction and ischemic heart disease, diabetes, musculoskeletal disorders (especially progressive joint disease), as well as cancers (attacking, among other things. endometrium, breasts, ovaries, prostate, liver, gallbladder, kidneys, or colon, among others).2 Obesity appears to be particularly dangerous in children and adolescents – this is because the longer the body is burdened with these problems, the more serious complications can arise from them. An exceptionally dangerous type of obesity – especially among young people – seems to be the abdominal type, which is characterized by central accumulation of fat. It can lead to elevated blood pressure, atherosclerosis and heart problems, as well as the development of metabolic syndrome. Overweight and obesity in children also poses a particular threat to the development of the emerging skeletal and articular system, leading to postural defects. In addition, excessive weight can cause disorders of menstruation and sexual maturation in young people, which in many cases leads to intimate problems in adulthood[4].

Unfortunately, problems with excessive body weight also have psychological and social consequences. According to an analysis by Polish researchers[5], people with excessive weight are perceived as less attractive and are sometimes stigmatized – they become victims of name-calling, and not infrequently also experience ostracism, i.e. isolation from the group. In addition, obese people are attributed with greater emotional reactivity inadequate to the situation. In terms of work-life consequences, according to a study by Larkin and Pines, overweight people experience difficulty finding jobs and discrimination – verbal as well as financial – from employers[6][7]. Other studies have shown that people with extremely developed obesity receive little social support, and are less likely to go out to public cultural venues such as movie theaters or theaters5. This may be due to a sense of shame and a belief in being judged by those around them. In an area looking at the psychological consequences of overweight and obesity, it was discovered that women with higher BMIs were more likely to suffer from depression and experience suicidal thoughts than other subjects. Interestingly, one study found that overweight and obesity were associated with the occurrence of bipolar disorder, as opposed to underweight, which was correlated with unipolar disorder. So, as you can see, the results do not indicate a clear, straightforward link between overweight and obesity and mood disorders. What’s more, it’s worth remembering that mental problems in this group may be related to excessive weight in an indirect way. They may result from social ostracism and stigma, which lead to the appearance of a sense of exclusion and lowered self-esteem, and may consequently contribute to the development of mood disorders. Cognitive researchers working on the issue of self-efficacy have come to some interesting psychological conclusions related to overweight and obesity. This concept, introduced by Albert Bandura, refers to a person’s belief in their own ability to cope with the challenges posed by their environment. It turns out that people with excessive weight often experience a sense of lack of control and influence over various life situations. This may be due to their difficult experiences with unsuccessful attempts to change their eating habits or frequency of engaging in physical activity. Unsuccessful attempts also lead to unpleasant emotional consequences such as feelings of guilt, regret and shame. Unfortunately, overweight and obesity can also co-occur with eating disorders such as paroxysmal overeating syndrome, which 30% of overweight respondents admitted to in a study, night eating syndrome, or bulimia.

As can be seen, in the context of young people, overweight and obesity can be not only a health problem leading to many dangerous complications in adulthood, but also a psychological problem. It is worth noting that the ostracism, ridicule, name-calling, stigmatization and isolation of people who are overweight or obese described earlier is likely to be particularly acute precisely in adolescents and people during adolescence. It is during this period that people have a particular tendency to form groups, while at the individual level, each person builds his or her identity based on peer acceptance, among other things. Thus, the non-acceptance of overweight young people by those around them can lead to serious psychological problems in the emotional and cognitive areas.

According to the research results presented, despite the promotion of healthy and active lifestyles in the public space, the problem of overweight and obesity still exists. It is worth noting that unhealthy eating and physical activity-related habits can be formed as early as in youth. Their effects can be seen very quickly, at a very young age, and lead to indirect physical and psychological problems that interfere with the healthy development of young people. In view of the reality of the problems of excessive body weight, including in the young part of the population, and the long-term consequences that result from these issues, the state, organizations and individuals should take preventive measures to prevent the spread of the obesity epidemic. According to the World Health Organization, the simplest steps individuals can take are to reduce their intake of fats and sugars (especially processed ones), increase their consumption of fruits and vegetables, as well as whole grains and nuts, and engage in regular physical activity (children – 60 minutes per day; adults – 150 minutes per week).2 Importantly, interventions should also be taken at the systemic level. According to experts, governments and businesses should ensure that healthy food products are accessible, affordable and attractive, especially to lower-income people. In addition, organizations should take measures to inspire and urge customers to be physically active. Importantly, social and marketing campaigns, in order to be satisfactorily effective, should be meticulously planned – in accordance with psychological knowledge of the public’s motivation to undertake effortful activities – and should present themselves attractively and convincingly. It is also worth remembering that after each organized campaign, appropriate measurements should be carried out to test the effectiveness of the actions taken. Only comprehensive and multi-level actions to prevent overweight and obesity can achieve satisfactory effectiveness and stop the ever-increasing epidemic of excessive weight.

[1] SIKORSKA-WIŚNIEWSKA, Grażyna. Overweight and obesity in children and adolescents. Food. Science. Technology. Quality, 2007, 6.55: 71-80.



[4] PRZYBYLSKA, Daria; KUROWSKA, Maria; PRZYBYLSKI, Piotr. Obesity and overweight in the developmental population. Hygeia public health, 2012, 47.1: 28-35.

[5] JURUĆ, Agata; BOGDAŃSKI, Paweł. Obesity and what next? On the psychological consequences of excessive body weight. In: Forum of Metabolic Disorders. 2010. p. 210-219.

[6] LARKIN, Judith Candib; PINES, Harvey A. No fat persons need apply: Experimental studies of the overweight stereotype and hiring preference. Sociology of work and occupations, 1979, 6.3: 312-327.

[7] SARLIO-LÄHTEENKORVA, Sirpa; SILVENTOINEN, Karri; LAHELMA, Eero. Relative weight and income at different levels of socioeconomic status. American Journal of Public Health, 2004, 94.3: 468-472.