Biases against patients due to their weight has long been a part of traditional medicine. Patients who face stigma due to their weight are less likely to engage medical care when they need it and, less receptive towards public health outreach in medicine.
Biases against patients due to their weight has long been a part of traditional medicine. Studies have shown that many providers and trainees hold significant biases towards overweight patients. These biases can negatively impact the provider and patient relationship and lead to delayed care. Patients who face stigma due to their weight are less likely to engage medical care when they need it and, less receptive towards public health outreach in medicine. One study showed weight was a barrier in patients seeking gynecological screenings.
Even more interesting: biases in weight-loss programs also significantly impacted patients program attrition, weight loss, and adherence to program recommendations. Despite patients being enrolled in a program with providers focused on weight loss, patients still faced harmful biases.
Unfortunately, many students are prone to the same biases. The CHANGES Study, across 49 medical schools, showed that 74% showed implicit biases, while a whopping 67% showed explicit biases towards overweight patients. These biases were more negative towards obese people than racial, ethnic, sexual orientation, and low-income groups.
The good news, is that some research has shown training programs for weight bias has been helpful to reduce this. Training programs were somewhat successful at decreasing biases towards obese patients: after just 17 minutes of video, medical student’s biases significantly decreased. These programs could be easily implemented into existing medical curriculums, particularly in bias trainings.
Eva Shelton, M.D.
Harvard Medical School, Brigham and Women's Hospital