Weight is a sensitive subject, and bias around weight may be more common than you suspect.1
Understanding the impact of weight bias1
Weight bias is described as negative attitudes toward individuals affected by excess weight or obesity that can lead to subtle and overt forms of discrimination.1
People with obesity may also experience depression, low self-esteem, and body image distress.5
Perceived weight bias isn’t isolated to the workplace, media, school, and family—a high percentage of patients with obesity perceive experiencing weight bias by medical professionals at least once.6
Study enrolled 2,671 patients broken into two subsamples. Sample 1 had 2,449 adult women and Sample 2 was a matched sample of adult men and women that was separated by gender to investigate gender differences. Both groups completed an online self-reported questionnaire. Topics included frequency of weight stigmatization and bias, coping responses to deal with the bias, most common sources of the weight bias, symptoms of depression and self esteem, attitudes about weight and obesity, and binge eating behaviors. The results above are from Sample 1 of the study.6
Even the best intentioned HCPs may exhibit weight bias7
Strategies to address weight bias8,9
Obesity is a serious disease, and it should be treated that way; a formal diagnosis of obesity is associated with better outcomes for patients.8
Patients with obesity may feel more comfortable seeking professional help when perceptions of bias in the health care setting are reduced9
Although the majority of the weight bias literature cites female respondents, that does not mean that men with obesity do not experience the same bias as well
Speak with patients strategically to get optimal results
Estimated time: 26 mins
Words Matter—Motivational Interviewing
Robert F. Kushner, MD
Finding constructive interview strategies can make all the difference in motivating patients with obesity. This simulated, interactive model presents effective ways to discuss weight with your patients, including the importance of understanding their motivations and providing diet and activity tips to manage weight.
2. Physical activity
3. Broaching the topic
4. Diet & activity
Creating a welcoming environment
Unaccommodating office equipment and assessment tools may have a negative impact on your patients, but there are ways to foster comfort.9
Training your office staff
You can start addressing weight bias by:
Increasing awareness about the negative consequences of weight bias of individuals with obesity
Using person-first language to avoid perceptions of bias
Encouraging colleagues to adopt a more empathetic understanding of their patients with obesity and avoiding the appearance of judgement
Being more sensitive to situations that could cause embarrassment, such as weighing in a public area
Emphasizing lifestyle goals, including healthy nutrition, increased physical activity, and behavioral changes
Words matter when it comes to discussing weight with your patients. Here are some preferred terms by patients with obesity10:
Your leadership can be the difference
1. The Obesity Society. Obesity, bias, and stigmatization. http://www.obesity.org/obesity/resources/facts-about-obesity/bias-stigmatization. Accessed March 2, 2021.
2. Adult obesity facts. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed March 1, 2021. https://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/adult.html.
3. US Census Bureau. QuickFacts: United States. Accessed March 1, 2021. https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/US#viewtop.
4. Andreyeva T, Puhl RM, Brownell KD. Changes in perceived weight discrimination among Americans, 1995-1996 through 2004-2006. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2008;16(5):1129-1134.
5. Puhl R, Heuer CA. The stigma of obesity: a review and update. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2009;17(5)941-964.
6. Puhl RM, Brownell KD. Confronting and coping with weight stigma: an investigation of overweight and obese adults. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2006;14:1802-1815.
7. Schwartz MB, Chambliss HO, Brownell KD, Blair SN, Billington C. Weight bias among health professionals specializing in obesity. Obes Res. 2003;11:1033-1039.
8. Dhurandhar N, et al. Poster presented at: Obesity Week 2017; October 29 - November 2, 2017; Washington, DC.
9. Obesity Action Coalition. Understanding obesity stigma. Accessed March 1, 2021. http://www.obesityaction.org/wp-content/uploads/UOS_1-26-18-wo-bleed.pdf.
10. Wadden TA, Didie E. What’s in a name? Patients’ preferred terms for describing obesity. Obes Res. 2003; 11(9): 1140-6.