Triple Goat

Triple Bias to Go with a Gastric Bypass

It’s ugly. People who need and choose to have gastric surgery for obesity face a triple bias. There’s the discrimination, bias, and even contempt that people experience just from living with obesity. But more troubling is bias from people making two kinds of false judgments about the surgery.

The Label of a Cheat and a Failure

In new qualitative research, Yitka Graham and colleagues document something that people having the surgery know all too well. Out of their vast ignorance about surgery for obesity, all kinds of people will judge you harshly. One respondent told Graham:

Once I was out for dinner with friends and one of them said to me, “If I find out you’ve had an operation, I will never speak to you again.” She said it was wrong and I was cheating.

The result, says Graham, is that many patients cope by keeping secrets. And secrets can make a person feel isolated. One person explained, ““I never told anyone except my mum. I just didn’t want to be talked about.”

“Damaging Healthy Organs”

But another source of these judgments and stigma is really troubling. We see it coming from people in the fat acceptance movement. It pops up when they are trying to sell other people on their trademarked philosophy, Health At Every Size®.

In their fact sheets, they describe surgery as ineffective and harmful – something that “intentionally damages healthy organs.” That obviously false description promotes derision of people who choose surgery.

This source of bias is ironic. It’s ironic because it comes from a group that wants to promote respect for people with obesity. And yet, from this source, we see many instances of disrespect for the choices that people make for coping with obesity.

No Easy Way

A gastric bypass or a gastric sleeve is hardly an easy way out from obesity. These surgeries are not simple choices and they’re not cures. But they can be life saving. They can dramatically improve a person’s health and quality of life. And yes, they carry a risk of complications. Those risks are comparable to the risks of many common surgeries. Unfortunately, the risks become exaggerated in the popular imagination.

What we don’t need is more bias, stigma, and disrespect for people with obesity. The only cure for ignorance that lies at the root of this bias is knowledge.

Click here for the study by Graham et al and here for more on her perspective from the Chronicle.

Triple Goat, photograph © woozie2010 / flickr

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September 28, 2017

4 Responses to “Triple Bias to Go with a Gastric Bypass”

  1. September 28, 2017 at 9:00 am, Susan Burke March said:

    In the HAES fact sheet that you link to, they write, “Weight-loss surgery (WLS) intentionally damages healthy organs in order to force
    adherence to a restrictive diet and incurs a host of short- and long-term risks
    including death and malnutrition.16,17”

    This fact sheet was updated in 2011, and these two studies date from 2007 and 2005, respectively. Understanding that weight loss surgery techniques, protocols, and follow-up is an evolving science, HAES should include more recent research that demonstrates the effectiveness and positive outcomes for people with severe metabolic conditions like type 2 diabetes who experience improved health following surgery.

    But they won’t, I imagine.

    • September 28, 2017 at 11:09 am, Ted said:

      Unfortunately, Susan, I think you’re right. Thanks for your thoughts about this.

  2. September 28, 2017 at 10:18 am, Allen Browne said:

    yup! – The only cure for ignorance that lies at the root of this bias is knowledge.”

  3. September 30, 2017 at 1:45 pm, Sarah Bramblette said:

    Exactly. Don’t shame or pressure anyone into treatment but also don’t shame people for making their own healthcare decisions. Also remember when AMA decision came out and the hashtag #imnotadisease was going around. How disrespectful for those with any disease, as if a diseased body is a bad body? But hey let’s post some half naked pictures to prove we love ourselves. *** I’m not against showing ones body and wearing what you want…it’s the constant message that in order to prove you love yourself you need to wear a bikini like why is a bikini empowering? Why can’t we be confident fully dressed?