Tuesday, March 7, 2017

#HealthEquity: Working Together to Overcome Obesity Bias, Stigma, and Discrimination

In 2017, bias, stigma, and discrimination based on body size are a reality for many people with obesity. One manifestation of obesity bias is fat shaming, which some believe encourages weight loss. The reality is, however, that it can have severe detrimental consequences for patients’ emotional and physical wellbeing. As Rebecca Puhl, PhD writes, “If fat shaming were an effective approach to provide incentive or motivation to lose weight, the majority of Americans wouldn't be struggling with overweight and obesity.” Other examples of obesity bias include false beliefs that those who have obesity are unkempt or uneducated.

Data has shown that another common belief, that obesity is a result of poor individual choices, is false. Rather, obesity develops from genetic and environmental factors in combination with behavioral factors. Research shows that obesity bias can affect nearly every aspect of patients’ lives--including educational and work environments, hiring practices, and health care. A recent study showed that people who reported feeling diminished by negative stereotypes about their weight were three times more likely to have a heightened risk of diabetes, heart disease and stroke.


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In medical settings, patients with obesity report being treated disrespectfully and receiving inappropriate comments about their weight. Unfortunately, some physicians view patients with obesity as being lazy or non-compliant. Indeed, about half of physicians admit to weight bias. These types of attitudes may lead to worse patient care. One reason is that patients with obesity may be less likely to seek care in order to avoid facing such negative attitudes.


How can health care professionals better meet the needs of patients with obesity and serve as allies in the goal of ending obesity bias, stigma, and discrimination and achieving equitable health care delivery for all patients? This is a conversation enriched by having all stakeholders at the table.


With our next #obsm #obesity tweetchat, we hope to raise awareness of obesity bias and discuss strategies to move forward. Specifically, we will discuss the following:


T1: How are obesity bias, stigma, and discrimination manifested both in and out of health care?

T2: How does obesity bias among health care practitioners affect patients’ emotional and physical health?

T3: What are the underlying misconceptions that lead to the acceptance of obesity bias, & where do they come from?


T4: What actions can individuals take to be allies and advocates in ending obesity bias?

T5: What changes would you like to see implemented on the systems and institutional-level to end obesity bias?

The #obsm Chat Leadership

Heather Logghe, MD
Arghavan Salles, MD, PhD
Babak Moein, MD
Neil Floch, MD
Amir Ghaferi, MD, MS