Weight stigma, the discrimination against those who are overweight or have obesity, can have serious effects on the mental and physical health of those who experience it. Shaming can make everyday life harder, but these problems can manifest themselves in the healthcare system as well. Melanie R. Jay, MD, co-director of NYU Langone’s Comprehensive Program on Obesity, which focuses on improving obesity treatment training for physicians, speaks to Discover magazine about how weight stigma is a bias physicians need to be aware of when treating patients.
Physicians with weight stigma also commonly attribute an excessive number of health issues to a patient’s weight, in some cases failing to properly examine them. Weight stigma can also impact access to procedures such as surgeries; some doctors tell patients with obesity seeking joint replacement surgeries to lose weight before they can have the procedure.
“It’s not like healthcare professionals have more obesity stigma and bias than the rest of the country. But we have the same amount,” says Dr. Jay. “A lot of patients with obesity avoid seeing a physician, avoid seeing a doctor, and avoid healthcare, which leads to worse outcomes. So, this is a really important problem to address.”
In 2019, Dr. Jay and her students surveyed a group of NYU Grossman School of Medicine students who were being evaluated on their ability to care for a patient with obesity. Students tended to place controllable factors like diet and physical activity as more significant causes of obesity than genetics.
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