Weight bias among health providers harms patients

By the American Osteopathic Association
Posted9/25/2016 7:20 AM

Research indicates nearly 70 percent of patients with obesity have encountered weight bias from a physician, leading many to avoid care and damaging their mental and physical health, according to osteopathic physicians specializing in obesity medicine.

Studies found the consequences of such attitudes toward patients to include poor rapport, decreased respect, less time spent in appointments and avoidance of some health screenings, according to Dr. Colony Fugate, clinical professor of pediatrics at Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences.


These attitudes, in turn, mean patients with obesity are more likely to delay or cancel appointments, avoid preventive care and engage in unhealthy weight control measures or binge-eating, researchers noted.

Dr. Fugate offered practical approaches to reducing weight bias at OMED 16, the annual medical conference for osteopathic physicians held last week in Anaheim, California.

"Obesity is not a matter of willpower. It's a complex condition with negative impacts on a patient's mind, body and spirit. Confronting our attitudes toward this disease is an important facet of providing high-quality care for patients," Dr. Fugate said.

Treating obesity is compounded by weight bias because researchers noted that funding for less stigmatized diseases is significantly higher than that for obesity.

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"Public health officials abdicate responsibility by focusing on individual control, rather than addressing the complex etiologies of obesity," Dr. Fugate said. "As an osteopathic physician, I encourage my colleagues to see the person inside the patient first and deal with the medical concern that brought them to the office, rather than assuming the patient's excess weight is their primary issue."

Failure to address weight bias decreases the physician's ability to prevent disease, which is a basic philosophy of osteopathic medicine.

It also hinders their effectiveness in improving patients' health.

"The overriding goal in osteopathic medicine is to promote patient health and well-being. By reflecting on our biases, all physicians can improve the quality of care they provide to patients with obesity and I encourage health care providers to analyze the literature with an eye toward compassionate care," Dr. Fugate said.

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