Second Class Care for “Those Obese People”

There’s nothing subtle about it. When people with obesity seek healthcare, what they receive is second class care – at best. Writing in Vox, physician Farah Naz Khan succinctly describes the situation that people with obesity face:

Obese patients often can’t even get standard medical procedures.

Health care providers are generally ill-equipped to deal with obese patients and their complex health needs. Over the years of my medical training, I’ve seen more and more examples of obese patients unable to get the care they need.

Even Khan — who by her writing suggests that she wants to provide better care — labels “the obese” in way that just isn’t done for patients with other diseases. You rarely find doctors writing about “the diabetics.” In cancer care, such a label doesn’t even exist to reduce someone’s identity to their disease.

But in routine medical care, obesity becomes a patient’s primary identity. That identity means that every symptom will be ascribed to obesity. “You could walk into a doctor’s office with an ax sticking out of your head and he would tell you that your head hurts because your fat,” said one person commenting on story about weight bias in the New York Times.

That hyperbole is not so different from the person who was told that her back pain was “obesity pain” by a specialist who neglected to diagnose scoliosis — a condition entirely separate from obesity.

In recent policy discussions, we were told that “prevention obviously has to be the primary strategy for dealing with obesity, because there’s just too much obesity to treat.”

Well, we treat a lot of diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. And if we don’t get serious about providing good care to people with obesity, we’ll be treating a lot more of those diseases.

Weight-based medical apartheid will eventually crush the healthcare system unless we fix it.

Click here to read the Khan’s commentary and here to read more about how removing weight bias from medical care.

No Admittance, photograph © Martin LaBar / flickr

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July 19, 2016

3 Responses to “Second Class Care for “Those Obese People””

  1. July 20, 2016 at 10:45 am, Allen Browne said:

    “Prevention obviously has to be the primary strategy for dealing with obesity, because there’s just too much obesity to treat.”

    Yup – I have heard that one before. The bias is subtle – or perhaps not so subtle. But it needs to go.

  2. July 21, 2016 at 11:18 am, Kam said:

    This sounds all too familiar. This is what still happens when someone with a visible disability enters a doctor’s office. Instead of treating a broken thumb, for example, they want to deal with why the person is in a wheelchair. We wonder why there are such great health disparities for people with existing disabilities–a huge problem is that we spent so much time trying to prevent disability, we weren’t (and still aren’t doing a good job) promoting the health of people who were already living it.

    • July 21, 2016 at 8:07 pm, Ted said: