Little Fashion Girl

Weight Bias in Healthcare as Great as in Fashion?

Sometimes we learn more from surprises than from research that confirms our suspicions. Nancy Rudd and colleagues set out to study weight bias in healthcare, fashion, and other service sector students. They expected — as we would have — to find more bias in students of fashion and retail studies.

But it turns out that healthcare majors harbor every bit as much bias as students of fashion and retail studies. They used multiple validated scales and saw no significant differences.

They did find that contact with people who have obesity yields links to less weight bias. Investment in personal appearance and personal satisfaction with one’s own appearance predicts more weight bias. In other words, if you don’t know people with excess weight, don’t have excess weight yourself, and you prize personal appearance highly, it’s easier to think badly about people with obesity.

But the real shocker here is that healthcare students are just as hostile toward people with obesity as people pursuing careers in fashion. Much has been made of the many ways that fashion promotes an unrealistic ideal of thinness. We expect frivolity and superficiality from the fashion industry, for better or for worse.

But we expect a higher standard of empathy, compassion, and caring from healthcare professionals. Healthcare educators should take note and take action.

Click here to read the study in the International Journal of Fashion Design, Technology and Education.

Little Fashion Girl, photograph © Silvio Tanaka / flickr

Subscribe by email to follow the accumulating evidence and observations that shape our view of health, obesity, and policy.