At this point, we know obesity is one of ournation's biggest (no pun intended) health threats. If you believe,well practically anyone, it's an issue (er, epidemic) that needs tobe addressed now or we risk changing the course of health care aswe know it.

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But just how will we address this problem if doctors exhibit ananti-fat bias toward their patients?

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According to a new study, it seems doctors are joining the restof the nation's general population in judgment of overweightpeople.

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The new research from Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center foundthat nearly 40 percent of medical students harbor a moderate tostrong unconscious anti-fat bias. That compares to 17 percent whoshowed a moderate to strong unconscious anti-thin bias.

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And that bias erects a significant barrier to the treatment andquality of care.

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Why? Because doctors are more likely to assume obese individualswon't follow treatment plans, so they're less likely to respectobese patients than those of average weight, explains David Miller,associate professor of internal medicine at Wake Forest and leadauthor of the study.

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According to Miller, the goal of the study was to determine theextent of such bias among medical students, and whether they'reeven aware of it. Although the study focused on just one medicalschool, the students were geographically diverse, representing atleast 25 different U.S. states and 12 other countries.

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So basically, the bias isn't isolated. It's a huge problem thatshould be really embarrassing to the medical field.

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As we've heard repeatedly, being obese poses some of thegreatest preventable health risks today. It increases the risk fordiseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, sleepapnea, respiratory problems and some cancers.

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“Bias can affect clinical care and the doctor-patientrelationship, and even a patient's willingness or desire to go seetheir physician, so it's crucial we try to deal with any biasduring medical school,” Miller said.

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Similarly, another recent study showed that obese patients aremore likely than normal-weight patients to switch providers becauseof negative interactions with their doctors, according to theresearchers at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine inBaltimore. Some others forgo visiting the doctor altogether becauseof perceived judgment of their weight.

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While bias among the obese is already rampant enough in offices,the dating pool and late night TV, you'd hope there would becivility in the doctor's office.

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What's next? Doctor bias against patients suffering from cancer,AIDS or depression?

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In this scenario, when obese patients need medical treatment andadvice most, these biased docs are the ones looking like thebiggest loser.

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