Doctors say mental health exams for obesity in patients becoming more common

Doctors say mental health exams for obesity in patients becoming more common

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - Health professionals say it's becoming more common for patients to undergo a mental health evaluation for obesity.

The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control states two out of every three adults in the state are considered obese. One out of every three children fall under that category. Doctors continue to research what causes obesity as the epidemic grows across the country.

Dr. Patrick O'Neil, Ph.D., with the Medical University of South Carolina's Weight Management Center, said all of the patients who come to the center undergo a form of a mental health exam.

"We have them complete several questionnaires and screen for things like depression and things like that," he said. "If it looks like it merits follow up then we'll do that, and if necessary, make recommendations for treatment of those conditions."

Based on research, O'Neil said mental illness and obesity influence one another.

He said if someone is obese, but not depressed, they are more than 50% likely to become depressed when followed up at a later date.

"At the same time, among people who are not obese initially, but they are initially depressed, they are more than 50% likely to become obese by the time we follow them up," he added.

"You want to make sure that the mental health side is dialed in," said Cody Cooper, owner and trainer at Grit Box Fitness.

Cooper said understanding a client's mental state is important to combating obesity.

"The mental aspect can really be brought into the picture when talking about how are we going to fix this," he said. "How are we really going to take it from where you're at now to getting the results that we're looking for."

O'Neil adds there's a lot of stigma surrounding mental illness and obesity.

"We know in society, particularly for obesity, for people with the condition it's a very public condition," O'Neil said. "It often brings back some negative reactions. With mental health problems, it may not be as apparent at all, but the stigma may keep the person who is suffering those problems from seeking help."

The biggest challenge though is taking that first step to try and make small changes.

"We encourage people to do what's called self-monitoring," O'Neil said. "Keep track of everything you consume with calories, even if it's just for three days."

Being in an environment where you're comfortable is equally as important.

"If you don't have the trust of a client, then you're really starting with nothing," Cooper said. "They really need to get that trust built in that relationship and then you can make a lot of stuff happen."

South Carolina ranks in the top ten for most obese states in the country.

DHEC reports the economic cost of obesity in South Carolina is $8.5 billion per year and continues to grow.

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