Weight Bias in Health Care
‘Tis the season to visit the doctor, be it for a flu shot or the flu. And you know what that means: The Dreaded Weigh-In. Is there any wonder why we cancel our medical appointments? Weight bias in health care exists.
Researchers from the Rudd Center at Yale University have been studying negative attitudes about obesity among health care professionals. Across the industry, measurements of attitude show that health professionals view obese people as lazy, lacking in self-control, and of poor character. Dr. Rob Lamberts, blog-author at “Musings of a Distractible Mind”, told The New York Times, “Obese people are the new pariahs in our culture....a culture of accusation and shame.” But the catch is that obese people generally share the same view. They internalize the negative stereotype. All apologies.
More than anyone else, doctors should recognize the health risks of obesity - and they do - but they don't know how to "treat" it. They say they aren’t trained, they have no time, and they are not reimbursed for weight loss counseling - which is all true. One-third of doctors feel no responsibility whatsoever for a patient’s weight and only 18 percent of doctors even discuss it.
But weight bias has big consequences for overweight patients. Several studies show that obese women put off routine medical care. They have fewer gynecological screenings and mammograms, and they cancel their visits. One study that found cancellations rose as as Body Mass Index (BMI) increased. The number one reason for cancellation? “Embarrassment about weight.”
Overweight Patient's Rights
Patients should demand quality care and health care providers should provide it.
Patients should expect:
- Considerate, respectful care
- Sturdy, armless waiting room chairs
- Reading materials than don't promulgate a culture of thinness
- Private weigh-ins
- A wide base scale with a 500 lb capacity
- Large blood pressure cuffs, exam gowns, and exam tables
- Compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act
Professionals should provide:
- A size-friendly environment
- Quality compassionate care
Regardless of size, all patients should be encouraged to eat a wholesome, balanced diet and take care of their body-mind-spirit.
Read a comprehensive article by Rebecca M Puhl and Chelsea A Heuer from the Rudd Center, The Stigma of Obesity: A Review and Update .
Have you experienced weight bias in health care?
Is your doctor aware of Calorie Count?