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Friday, November 9, 2012

Study suggests doctors share "anti-fat bias"

The overweight and obese certainly face discrimination and unfriendly attitudes in their daily lives. But does that extend to their doctor?

A new study suggests that indeed physicians are just as likely as other members of the general public to be biased against overweight and obese individuals.

Researchers had more than 359,000 people access a web site that measured their implicit and explicit attitudes toward overweight and thin people through a series of pictures and positive and negative descriptions. They also were asked to identify their highest level of education, with 2,284 test-takers saying they had an MD.

The results showed a strong "anti-fat bias" among both the total population and the MDs, although male doctors seemed to have a stronger bias than female doctors. This strong bias continued even when test-takers were directly asked to what degree they preferred overweight or thin people.

"Strong explicit attitudes suggest that individuals, including medical doctors, may feel that it is socially acceptable to express negative attitudes about overweight people," the researchers wrote.

While public disapproval of the overweight and obese isn't news, the fact that so many doctors apparently share that view would suggest it may extend to their practice. The researchers said they're concerned that that could actually persuade overweight patients against seeking checkups and other health care services. They recommended future study of how these provider attitudes may be affecting the quality of health care the overweight and obese receive.

Considering the growing percentage of the U.S. population struggling with weight, those attitudes could have major implications for the health care system down the road.

For an alternative approach, here's a 2002 article from Family Practice Management dealing with how to better care for obese patients.

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