At this point, we know obesity is one of our nation’s biggest (no pun intended) health threats. If you believe, well practically anyone, it’s an issue (er, epidemic) that needs to be addressed now or we risk changing the course of health care as we know it.
But just how will we address this problem if doctors exhibit an anti-fat bias toward their patients?
According to a new study, it seems doctors are joining the rest of the nation’s general population in judgment of overweight people.
The new research from Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center found that nearly 40 percent of medical students harbor a moderate to strong unconscious anti-fat bias. That compares to 17 percent who showed a moderate to strong unconscious anti-thin bias.
And that bias erects a significant barrier to the treatment and quality of care.
Why? Because doctors are more likely to assume obese individuals won’t follow treatment plans, so they’re less likely to respect obese patients than those of average weight, explains David Miller, associate professor of internal medicine at Wake Forest and lead author of the study.
According to Miller, the goal of the study was to determine the extent of such bias among medical students, and whether they’re even aware of it. Although the study focused on just one medical school, the students were geographically diverse, representing at least 25 different U.S. states and 12 other countries.
So basically, the bias isn’t isolated. It’s a huge problem that should be really embarrassing to the medical field.
As we’ve heard repeatedly, being obese poses some of the greatest preventable health risks today. It increases the risk for diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, sleep apnea, respiratory problems and some cancers.
“Bias can affect clinical care and the doctor-patient relationship, and even a patient’s willingness or desire to go see their physician, so it’s crucial we try to deal with any bias during medical school,” Miller said.
Similarly, another recent study showed that obese patients are more likely than normal-weight patients to switch providers because of negative interactions with their doctors, according to the researchers at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore. Some others forgo visiting the doctor altogether because of perceived judgment of their weight.
While bias among the obese is already rampant enough in offices, the dating pool and late night TV, you’d hope there would be civility in the doctor’s office.
What’s next? Doctor bias against patients suffering from cancer, AIDS or depression?
In this scenario, when obese patients need medical treatment and advice most, these biased docs are the ones looking like the biggest loser.