March for Racial Justice

Is Weight Bias More Acceptable Than Racial Bias?

UPDATE: Within hours of our posting below, Medscape posted the following retraction notice.

While we welcome thought-provoking and even controversial points of view in our commentaries and in comments from our readers, we do not endorse weight bias, nor bias towards any group. After careful review, the editors at Medscape have decided to retract this commentary. We understand how this commentary could promote stigma and marginalization.

This week, we’ve watched two vivid examples of biased thinking unfold in medical forums. In one case, we saw demeaning racial stereotypes offered up in Neurology. In another, we have demeaning body weight stereotypes presented by an editor at Medscape. The case of racial bias led to a swift retraction and a resignation. But in the case of weight bias, Medscape responded by inviting ConscienHealth to respond for the purpose of promoting dialogue.

Firmly Rejecting Racial Stereotypes

In Neurology, William Campbell wrote about an African American patient and his wife. He described the wife as “a roly-poly woman” whose “abundant rolls of fat jiggled as she giggled.” In addition, Campbell wrote about sharing a table at a fried chicken fast food restaurant with “a nice African American lady.” He described how she liberally salted her french fries with her “chubby fist.”

Campbell defended the article as “telling true stories.” Neurology Editor-in-Chief Robert Gross apologized and the journal swiftly retracted it because of its “racist characterizations.” Soon after that, an editor resigned from the section where this article appeared.

Katherine Sharkey, a dean at Brown University’s Alpert Medical School, explained the problem:

There are people in academic medicine who still deny institutional racism and “don’t see color” and don’t understand what our students, house staff and colleagues who are underrepresented minorities have to put up with on a day-to-day basis.

“Both Sides” of Weight Bias

In sharp contrast, Medscape has not yet chosen to retract a commentary by its Editor-at-Large, George Lundberg. He describes “really fat people shoveling down large quantities” of “anti-nutritious garbage.” The stereotypes remind us of Campbell’s story. But the target is different. In this case, the target is people with obesity.

Let’s be clear. These stereotypes are false. Some people with obesity have excellent diets. Some do not. The same is true for people without obesity. Medscape has no business promoting false and harmful stereotypes.

Rather than retract the article, Medscape is promoting “dialogue.” In addition to ConscienHealth’s commentary, it chose to publish comments like “Glory Hallelujah, Dr. Lundberg has the innards to speak the truth.”

Standing Against Bias

Neurology was clear. The retracted article “is not what Neurology stands for and is not what we believe.” Medscape is still on the fence.

Neither racial bias nor weight bias is acceptable. But at Medscape, for now, it looks like weight bias is still up for debate. That’s a mistake that Medscape can correct by retracting this harmful content. We call upon Medscape’s Editor-in-Chief, Eric Topol, to do just that.

March for Racial Justice, photograph © Miki Jourdan / flickr

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February 22, 2019

4 Responses to “Is Weight Bias More Acceptable Than Racial Bias?”

  1. February 22, 2019 at 7:25 am, Allen Browne said:

    Excellent post. Medscape did not reply to my comments or query.



    • February 22, 2019 at 7:29 am, Ted said:

      Thanks for pointing to this in the first place, Allen. This has got to stop.

  2. February 22, 2019 at 9:53 am, Michael R. Mantell, Ph.D. said:

    The response by Theodore K. Kyle, RPh, MBA, Caroline M. Apovian, MD and Amanda Velazquez, MD to George Lundberg’s harmful Medscape article, ought to be considered required reading for all in healthcare, particularly those in training.
    The Obesity Action Coalition, in their “Weight Bias in Healthcare,” observed, “The prevalence of weight discrimination in the United States is comparable to racial discrimination.” Does Medscape not see this?
    Perhaps Dr Lundberg, and those blind to the harm his comments bring to people affected by obesity, might consider asking themselves the following questions, from the Obesity Society, to help them identify their weight bias:
    1. Do I make assumptions based only on weight regarding a person’s character, intelligence, professional success, health status, or lifestyle behaviors?
    2. Am I comfortable working with people of all shapes and sizes?
    3. Do I give appropriate feedback to encourage healthful behavior change?
    4. Am I sensitive to the needs and concerns of obese individuals?
    5. Do I treat the individual or only the condition?

  3. February 26, 2019 at 5:23 pm, Angela Golden said:

    Well they only sort of retracted it – it is archived so we can all still read it and be frustrated – retracted should be removed in my humble opinion.