Stop the stigma of weight bias

Physicians have a role in stamping out weight bias.

Even though the concept of weight bias has been around for a very long time, the term is surprisingly new. Weight bias refers to negative attitudes, beliefs, judgments, stereotypes, and discriminatory acts aimed at individuals because of their weight.

Weight bias is a critical issue in today’s society. A recent survey found that 90% of U.S. adults recognized weight bias exists and 42% said they have experienced discrimination because of their weight. So how do we combat negative preconceptions and create a world free of weight bias? The answer is simple in theory: awareness and inclusion.

Weight Bias in Action

If you have never experienced weight bias firsthand, you’re lucky. It’s toxic, harmful and extremely widespread. And unfortunately, data shows that negative attitudes toward weight can begin as early as preschool. At least 30% of girls with excess weight and 24% of boys with excess weight reported being teased by peers at school. The trauma that many children experience early in life can lead to serious health issues including:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Eating disorders
  • Low self-esteem
  • Decline in health

Beyond childhood, weight bias continues to run rampant in the workplace, the media and in popular culture. But what’s also very disappointing, is the way people with overweight and obesity are treated in the healthcare system. Oftentimes, medical gowns don’t fit, scales are in public, high-traffic areas or equipment does not support higher weights. To add more fuel to the fire, many physicians and other health care professionals lack a proactive bedside manner when treating patients with excess weight. As we know, this can have detrimental effects on the quality of care received and result in patients not returning for follow-up care.

From Stigma to Awareness

The first step to overcome weight bias is to acknowledge it exists in our world today. We can’t not talk about it — it’s out there in every facet of our society. But we can do better as healthcare leaders to make all patients feel welcome and included in our practices. Some ways to do this are:

Inclusive-sized gowns and equipment

Open-arm chairs and supportive furniture

Wide-based scales located in a private setting

Inclusive imaging services and referrals

Come One, Come All

By creating an inclusive environment, we can build a better world free of weight bias. Every patient deserves to be treated with dignity and respect — from the moment they walk in the door to the second they walk out. Weight bias has no place in modern medicine and it is our responsibility to be part of the solution to stop the stigma.

Weight should never determine someone’s access to medical care or the way they are treated at their doctor’s office. It’s up to us to change this and create an environment where everyone can receive best-in-class care that’s clinically sound and compassionate for all.

Join us at the Spring Obesity Summit, and learn more about weight bias from Joseph Nadglowski at his session on May 1, 2022. To become a member of the Obesity Medicine Association, visit: https://obesitymedicine.org/join

Joseph Nadglowski is President and CEO of the Obesity Action Coalition. He has more than 25 years of experience working in patient advocacy, public policy and education. Nadglowski is an author and speaks all over the country about the importance of obesity awareness.


This was originally posted by our sister publication Medical Economics.