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Weight Bias; Are Doctors Driving Patient’s Shame about Seeking Medical Care?

Weight Bias in the Doctor's OfficeHave you ever delayed or avoided getting medical care because of weight bias or because you felt shame about your body? Were you afraid the doctors or nurses at the doctor’s office might judge you based on what you weighed or whether you’d lost or gained weight since your last visit?

Unfortunately, your concerns may in fact have been valid.

I recently co-authored a review article published in a special issue of the Journal of Obesity in which we evaluated “…the Evidence for Prioritizing Well-Being over Weight Loss”. While doing my research, I read some disturbing but not surprising research about weight stigma in healthcare, reported by the Yale Rudd Center (Now located at UCONN).

When it comes to Weight Bias and Weight Stigma, here’s what their studies found…

• 69% of participants reported that they had experienced weight bias by a doctor
• Over half of participants reported bias from a doctor on multiple occasions
• 46% reported bias from nurses
• 37% reported bias from dietitians
• 21% reported bias from health professionals

(Source: Puhl RM, Brownell KD. Confronting and Coping with Weight Stigma: An Investigation of Overweight and Obese Adults. Obesity.2006;14(10):1802-1815.)

Experiencing weight bias in health care settings may lead patients to:

a. Feel discouraged from making positive lifestyle changes.
b. Avoid seeking routine or preventive care.
c. Engage in unhealthy behaviors in response to stigma.
d. Experience negative psychological consequences.

According to the Rudd Center’s research, there is some hope. Weight bias can be reduced and the quality of medical care can be enhanced when healthcare providers become aware of personal biases and adopt effective and sensitive strategies to communicate with patients of higher weight.

(Sources: Puhl, Heuer, 2010, Puhl, Heuer, 2009, Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity Center’s Course, Weight Bias in Clinical Settings: Improving Health Care Delivery for Obese Patients, and Puhl RM, Heuer CA. Obesity stigma: Important considerations for public health. Am J Public Health. 2010;100(6):1019-1028, and Puhl RM, Heuer CA. The stigma of obesity: A review and update. Obesity. 2009;17(5):941-964.)

Have you ever experienced weight prejudice or stigma in a health care setting? If willing, please tell us about it in the comments section below. You’re certainly not alone!

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My name is Ellen Shuman and I am a staunch advocate of well-being over weight! I am a pioneer in the field of binge eating disorder treatment; a Coach who specializes in helping people overcome binge eating, binge eating disorder, emotional eating, compulsive eating, and food addiction. I am the founder of A Weigh Out  Life Coaching & Online Members’ Circle, Acoria Binge Eating Disorder Treatment (1993-present), a Past President of the Binge Eating Disorder Association (2011/2012), and I started the Academy for Eating Disorders Special Interest Group on “Health at Every Size”. To learn more, please get in touch, ellen@aweighout.com, 513-321-4242.

Comments

  1. Ellen,

    Are you using the Dialectical Behavior Therapy model as a basis for your instruction/motivation?
    I’m educating myself on this therapy model and find similarities on your site….It’s great!!!

  2. Ellen Shuman, Emotional Eating Recovery Coach; A Weigh Out says:

    Thanks! Yes, I use some of DBT, along with a wide variety of other tools.

  3. Kathryn Lawrence says:

    Doctors have shamed me for years. I have cancelled many dr appts just because of the embarrassment. When I have lost some weight one doctor almost did cartwheels. A lot of emphasis is put on that and it is hard to let it go.

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