Fat shaming done by health care providers can take a toll on overweight people’s physical health and well-being, according to a study. The findings showed that obese people often fall victims to medical discrimination by doctors in the form of disrespectful treatment, lectures about weight loss, embarrassing comments, and a less thorough examination. “Disrespectful treatment and medical fat shaming, in an attempt to motivate people to change their behaviour, is stressful and can cause patients to delay health care seeking or avoid interacting with providers,” said Joan Chrisler, professor at the Connecticut College, US.
Further, overweight people often get excluded from medical research based on assumptions about their health status, meaning the standard dosage for drugs may not be appropriate for larger body sizes.
“Research has shown that doctors repeatedly advise weight loss for fat patients while recommending CAT scans, blood work or physical therapy for other, average weight patient,” Chrisler said.
In some cases, doctors also do not take fat patients’ complaints seriously or assume that their weight is the cause of any symptoms they experience.
“Thus, they jump to conclusions or fail to run appropriate tests, which results in misdiagnosis,” Chrisler rued while presenting the results at the 125th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association in Washington D.C.
Weight stigma also leads to psychological stress, which can lead to poor physical and psychological health outcomes for obese people.
In addition, negative attitudes among medical providers can also cause psychological stress in obese patients.
“Implicit attitudes might be experienced by patients as micro-aggressions — for example, a provider’s apparent reluctance to touch a fat patient, or a headshake, wince or ‘tsk’ while noting the patient’s weight in the chart,” Chrisler said.
“Micro-aggressions are stressful over time and can contribute to the felt experience of stigmatisation,” she noted.
Treatments should focus on mental and physical health as the desired outcomes for therapy, and not on weight, the researchers said.