Battling Obesity: Improving Interactions with Patients

Healthcare providers have frequent interaction with patients struggling with their weight. It’s estimated that 60% of doctors’ office visits are filled with people who are overweight or obese. While new diagnostic and treatment options to battle obesity continue to be investigated, recognition is rarely given to the social consequences of obesity. Negative stereotypes and patient-provider interactions can lead to poor emotional and physical health among those who are obese. These factors can also lead to disparities in quality of care among high-risk individuals. Weight Discrimination In a recent survey, over 2,000 Americans were polled to determine the role of weight discrimination in society. The prevalence rates of weight discrimination were comparable to that of racial discrimination; among women, weight discrimination was actually higher than racial discrimination. Another survey compared a cohort from two different time periods, finding that rates of weight discrimination have increased by 66% in the past decade. An analysis of 2,400 overweight and obese adults recently found that the most common frequently reported source of weight stigma was from doctors (69%), followed closely by nurses (46%), dietitians (37%), and mental health professionals (21%). These findings emphasize that healthcare professionals are not immune to negative attitudes toward obese people. Weight discrimination can occur in both subtle, nonverbal ways and in overt ways. Negative stereotypes include obese patients being perceived as lazy, less competent, dishonest, noncompliant, and lacking in motivation and self-discipline. To determine if bias is present, providers should consider the following: Do I make assumptions based only on weight regarding a person’s character, intelligence, professional success, health status, or lifestyle behaviors? Am I comfortable working with...