Twin Bing Cherry

Bing! One Less Dose of Explicit Weight Bias

Bing TweetChange comes in increments. Because humans are wired for bias, the bias against people at higher weights is especially hard to escape. But we take heart from explicit signs of such bias erased. Small victories count, too. This week, one such victory came when Bing took down an appalling entry for childhood obesity, filled with pure weight bias.

A Demeaning and False Stereotype

This entry checked all the boxes. It depicted a Hispanic child shoveling cake and frosting into his mouth. Alongside the photo, bullet points called out “pot belly” and “stretch marks” as features to remember. A week ago, this demeaning stereotype is what the Bing search engine served up on top when someone was looking for information about childhood obesity.

Andrew Brown, an assistant professor at the Indiana University School of Public Health, called it out on Twitter. A cascade of posts followed to urge Bing to remove this bigoted vignette. The Obesity Action Coalition reached out directly to Bing and received a favorable response.

Just one week later, it’s gone.

Explicit Bias Doesn’t Pass

Of course, the plural of anecdote is not data. This is not proof that weight bias is in full retreat. But we do have both anecdotal and objective data to tell us that explicit weight bias is fading. Researchers have documented it.

Implicit BiasBut as we’ve noted before, implicit weight bias is stronger than ever. These are the assumptions and reactions we have to a higher-weight person without even thinking about it. Such implicit bias against people with obesity is something that even health professionals learn in their training. Physician Janice Asher remarked on Twitter:

I can’t remember any references in med school to people with #obesity that weren’t derisive &/or judgmental.

So we’re not kidding ourselves. Implicit weight bias is thriving. But we take pleasure in every defeat of explicit bias and keep faith that eventually, the implicit bias will fade away, too.

Click here for more on implicit weight bias and how it infiltrates well-intended public health efforts.

Twin Bing Cherry, photograph © John Loo / flickr

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


July 4, 2020