Too often, patients share comments they’ve received from their health care provider that make them feel shamed about their weight. Examples include:
“If you just eat less and exercise more, you wouldn’t be so big.”
“You need to stop eating or your knees will never get better.”
“If you keep eating so much, you’re destined for a heart attack.”
Since I began in this field of obesity medicine almost 4 decades ago, I have been on a mission to fight weight bias that is so pervasive in our culture.
I often talk about how doctors would never shame a person for having diabetes or cancer and yet many seem to treat the disease of obesity differently. But it’s no different.
- It’s a disease that afflicts nearly 4 out of every 10 patients.
- It has evidence –based treatments that include lifestyle modification, medications and surgery.
- Like many other disease, it’s a disease prone to exacerbations.
Just as worsening of one’s diabetes or cancer is looked at as an exacerbation of a serious disease, weight regain in those suffering from obesity is also an exacerbation of the disease of obesity – not a failure of willpower.
Overt or subtle, weight bias should not be ignored as it can lead to depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, poor body image, social rejection by peers, poor quality of interpersonal relationships and avoidance of physical activity. It can also make people avoid seeing their health care provider or seeking preventative care.
Here are 3 things you can do now to take action:
1 – Get support
Connect with the Obesity Action Coalition (OAC) at https://www.obesityaction.org/, an advocacy group dedicated to fighting weight bias and read their Understanding Obesity Stigma brochure at:
Once you better understand these important issues, you’ll be more motivated to take a stand and advocate for fair and just treatment.
As a past member of OAC’s advisory board and a Co-chair of their yearly program committee (for 8 years), I applaud the work they do.
2 – Practice advocating for yourself
When you experience weight bias, tell the person how their stigmatizing comments make you feel. Offer them more constructive ways they can discuss weight issues and remind them that obesity is a disease, not a character fault.
Though this is not always easy to do, the OAC has plenty of support to help guide you. Read their blogs and Your Weight Matters Magazine, attend their yearly conference and start connecting with others who can support you.
3 – Get a new health care provider
If your health care provider continues to treat you with disrespect, it may be time to get a new provider. The American Board of Obesity Medicine (ABOM) trains physicians in the care of patients with obesity.
Consider finding an ABOM certified specialist in your area. You can do a search for a physician in your area at https://abom.learningbuilder.com/public/membersearch.
Achieving good health is a journey. Be sure to enjoy it!
Robert Kushner, MD