Widespread Doctor Bias Against Patients with Obesity

November 27, 2012 — We might be surprised to learn that physicians carry our society’s negative biases toward people with obesity. But how widespread it this bias?

PLOS ONE recently published a study designed to determine the pervasiveness of negative attitudes about weight among MDs. The study examined implicit and explicit anti-fat bias among a large sample of medical doctors who completed an online questionnaire. The responses of the 2,284 physicians showed strong implicit anti-fat bias.Just like the general population sample of 359,261 people who participated in the study, the physician sub-sample reported a strong preference for thin people rather than fat people or indicated a strong explicit anti-fat bias.

Weight discrimination in healthcare settings leads many people with excess weight to avoid routine preventive healthcare. Research at the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity has shown that as weight bias in healthcare deters people with obesity from seeking healthcare, it leads to more unhealthy behaviors that compound the obesity problem — a vicious cycle. Since the prevalence of weight discrimination among Americans has increased by 66% over the past ten years, the rationale to explore doctor bias was evident.

The study found that MDs’ implicit and explicit attitudes about weight follow the same general pattern seen in the very large public samples. The conclusion: anti-fat bias is as pervasive among medical doctors as it is among most people in society.

Read the PLOS ONE journal article here.