By Faten Omar
KUWAIT: Being obese is not always a result of bad eating habits. In fact, there is a complex relationship between obesity, discrimination and bullying. Kuwait ranks among the top countries in the world in terms of obesity amongst its population. The rate of obesity among adults is 40 percent of the total population, while childhood obesity exceeds 35 percent.
It has been proven through numerous studies that bullying and discrimination contribute to mental and physical disorders including obesity, depression and addiction. Recently, a study by Biological Psychiatry found a link between discrimination and deregulated brain-gut microbiome (BGM). The study looked at the role of the BGM system in health problems related to discrimination.
Some teenagers explained to Kuwait Times that school nowadays causes them much stress, which at some point leads to stress eating. Hatan Fatafta pointed out that no one understands the struggle and blames her for overeating, even her family. “I am fat and suffer from bullying, not only from other students, but also by my brother. It went too far when he began to call me names of large animals in front of people. My mother sees obesity as something that I caused to myself and believes change is easy,” she said.
“Teenagers are eating to numb or calm unpleasant feelings like tension, anger, anxiety, boredom and loneliness. The negative emotions can be sparked by significant daily events that we go through in school, like how teachers treat some students and how even students treat each other, which might prevent you from losing weight and cause emotional eating,” she added.
Sama Abdulrahman affirmed that stress from being discriminated and bullying leads to not being accepted, noting stress will result in obesity, which makes obese children get caught in a cycle of bullying and victimization. “It is obvious that there is an uncomfortable cause and effect relationship between bullying and obesity among students. Bullying can sometimes cause obesity because eating becomes a soothing diversion from the abuse we undergo,” she added.
As for Abdulwahab Awad, stress eating is something he is struggling to avoid. “I write everything I eat to realize what I’m doing to myself. I always try to tame my stress, which is the cause of where I have reached so far. The brain can be deceiving. You feel hungry, but the hunger is not real. With the help of my family, I got the support to fight overthinking about food and take away temptation. I made sure to have interesting options of health snacks also,” he explained.
The study found the brain and gut microbiome respond significantly to stressful experiences. Participants from all ethnic and racial backgrounds reported experiencing discrimination, although they cited a variety of reasons for discrimination, ranging from race to gender to age.
The researchers collected the data to assess the relationship between discrimination and brain connectivity. The research indicates that for some individuals, discrimination leads them to changes that include increased systemic inflammation. Across all races, discrimination had an increase in emotional arousal and the limbic system in the brain, which is associated with the stress response which influences physical health.
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