The Effects of Weight Stigma in the Health Care Industry
Did you know that doctors can be biased against larger-size patients? So much, that it changes their treatment plan. But advocates are calling for an end to the judgment and less-than-equal care. Often there have been cases where larger size women seek medical intervention, but don’t get offered suggestions beyond weight-loss treatments. When heavier patients come in with symptoms, doctors see only fat, which can mean treatment will fail to help her get healthier or will add to her health issues. We call this weight stigma.
What is weight stigma?
Weight stigma is associated with all the negative behaviors and attitude directed at people solely because of their weight. A few common stereotypes about people who are overweight are laziness, unmotivated, and unintelligent. We can find weight stigma present in workplaces, healthcare settings, schools and anywhere else. This stigma makes it less likely for people who are heavier to seek medical care. It also leads to worse health outcomes, such as HIV/AIDS, mental health, and diabetes.
The impact of weight stigma
Psychological and physical health can be significantly impacted by weight stigma. Studies show that it is a significant risk factor for depression, body dissatisfaction, and low self-esteem. Women who experience weight stigmatization are also prone to engage in more frequent binge eating, are at an increased risk for eating disorder symptoms and are more likely to have a diagnosis for binge eating disorder. According to victims of weight stigma physicians and family members are the most common source of weight bias. When talking to obese patients, healthcare providers tend to provide them with less health information, spend less time with them and view them as undisciplined, annoying and non-compliant with treatment.
Healthy ways to address weight
Some doctors are finding a way to treat patients through Health at Every Size (HAES), an approach championed by the Association for Size Diversity and Health, shifts the focus from weight management to health promotion. Instead focusing on weight, doctors prioritize positive health behaviors, like sleep habits, movement that brings joy, and nourishing food. This will essentially begin to eliminate weight stigma from medical care, as well as build a connection between health care providers and patients. You have the right to health care that respects your body and your choices for how you want approach your overall wellness, regardless of your size.