3 Ways Bias Trumps Evidence in Obesity

The way bias trumps evidence in obesity treatment and policy, blissful ignorance is never in short supply. Here are three appalling examples.

  1. Celebrity “Experts.” Folks like Mehmet Oz shout out evidence-free opinions that the media publish as facts. These folks are selling only one product — themselves. But along the way, Oz routinely promotes “weight loss miracles” that are nothing of the sort. Steven Ross Pomeroy summed up the situation pretty well in a Forbes op-ed, saying, “From his trusted position, Dr. Oz  simply masquerades marketing as medicine, trumpeting outlandish claims on the backs of poorly conducted science and insignificant data. In the end, it’s all for ratings.”
  2. Bariatric Surgery Stigma. A very small percent of people who might benefit from obesity surgery opt to pursue it. Systematic evidence review showing that surgical obesity treatment is superior to alternatives for severe obesity is routinely ignored by many doctors and especially self-appointed experts. One such non-expert, Jillian Michaels, declared this week on her “Maximize Your Life Tour” that bariatric surgery is never necessary. Despite being flat-out wrong, Michaels and others like her still have people listening to them because their false words reinforce pervasive bias. No wonder so few people opt for a surgery that can be life-saving, or face shaming from family and friends when they do. It shouldn’t require courage to seek the medical help you need, but ask anyone who’s been there. It does.
  3. Obesity Treatment Exclusions. The Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare or the ACA) was supposed to make it impossible to deny medical treatment for people with serious medical conditions. And yet, medical and surgical obesity treatments are routinely and explicitly excluded from health plans, even now that the ACA is in full effect. It’s amazing that people can rationalize treating severe obesity as if it’s not a medical problem. But if you assume it’s a choice, not a disease, your bias lets you off the hook.

These three examples are just for starters. Bias trampling the facts in nutrition and obesity is so common as to make your head spin.

Click here to read more about Oz in Forbes, here to read more about criticisms of Jillian Michaels, here to read more about exclusions for obesity treatment, and here to read more about the evidence for surgical obesity treatment.

Bliss, photograph © Britt Selvitelle / flickr

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