Are Doctors Nicer to Thin Patients?

It’s no secret that anti-fat bias exists, but could your doctor be guilty of it? According to a small study by researchers at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine recently published in the journal Obesity, the answer is yes.

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Emotional support is very important for patients who are overweight.

The study looked at the interactions between 39 primary care physicians and over 200 patients. Researchers recorded the conversations, then measured how many times the doctors expressed empathy, concern, or understanding through words or phrases with their patients. The results showed that doctors were significantly more likely to express empathy, concern, and understanding with patients with a normal body mass index (BMI) than with overweight or obese patients.

While the doctors spent the same amount of time with each patient and dispensed the same treatment and advice, bias against overweight patients – whether conscious or not – can have a negative impact on a patient’s health. Emotional support is an important component of care that doctors should provide to their patients through expressions of encouragement. Without establishing this rapport, patients are less likely to adhere to the treatment and advice given by their doctors.

After all, losing weight and reclaiming your health is a very difficult undertaking. It can feel that much more daunting if the professionals who are there to help you along the way don’t seem to be fully on your team.

In another study, Johns Hopkins researchers found that doctors who are overweight were 12 percent less likely to counsel a patient on the need for weight loss than normal-weight doctors. The same study also found that only 37 percent of overweight doctors felt confident in their ability to counsel patients on weight loss as compared to 53 percent of doctors who aren’t overweight.

Do you feel your doctor is less supportive of you because of your weight? Tell us about it below.

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