Doctors’ Attitudes Can Sabotage Weight Loss

When it comes to treating overweight or obese patients, medical doctors apparently really need to improve their bedside manner.

“When a patient hears, ‘you’re fat’ or ‘you’re morbidly obese,’ that’s bad,” said University of Florida psychology student Amanda M. Roberts.  “This sabotages weight loss.”

Research has found that physicians harbor the same negative opinions that the general population has toward overweight and obese people, and when their heavy patients perceive this, they lose trust in the doctor and are less likely to adhere to the prescribed treatment, Roberts said during a session entitled, “Fat Stigma Across the Life Span—Interpersonal, Psychological, Occupational and Medical Consequences.”

A 2003 study found that more than 50 percent of physicians surveyed reported finding obese patients unattractive, awkward, ugly and noncompliant, and 30 percent surveyed described obese patients as weak-willed, sloppy and lazy, according to Roberts. Her own recent study found that patients with a larger body mass index were less satisfied with and had less trust in their doctor, and this was significantly associated with the patients’ perceived weight discrimination.

“We have to eliminate the ‘just-lose- weight’ solution.” Roberts said.  “Would you tell someone with schizophrenia, ‘You are so delusional. You need to fix yourself’?’”

Physicians have reported that obesity was among their least preferable patient conditions, preferred less than alcoholism, drug addiction and mental illness, and they have associated obesity with poor hygiene, noncompliance, hostility and dishonesty, Roberts said.

“There’s really something going on and we need to spread awareness that providers need to work on this,” she said.  “We have to eliminate the ‘just lose weight’ solution.”

by Lisa Bowen

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