Sally Abbott at ECO2022

ECO2022: Bias Against Persons HCPs Are “Caring” For

This news from ECO2022, sadly, is not surprising. At an outstanding session on mental health and stigma, Sally Abbott presented new research on the implicit weight bias. In fact, she measured it in healthcare providers from UK bariatric services. These were mostly dietitians, psychologists, and nurses. More than 40 percent of these HCPs held implicit bias against the people they are caring for – because of their weight.

Though this finding is not really surprising, it does leave us to wonder. How does one provide good care for someone they regard as less worthy because of the condition for which they seek care? It is little wonder that we see anger from the fat activism community about obesity as a diagnosis.

Agreement That Obesity Care Focuses Too Much on Weight

Abbott and colleagues invited UK healthcare professionals to participate in a webinar about non-weight focused approaches in bariatric services. During the webinar, they collected implicit bias data using the BiasProof mobile device test. This employs a standardized implicit association test.

Of the 40 percent with implicit weight bias, it was mostly present to a slight degree. Less than 15 percent of participants exhibited strong or moderate bias. So this is simply a reminder that implicit weight bias is surprisingly common – even in settings where one might not be expecting it.

At the same time, it is noteworthy that 98 percent of these HCPs agreed that bariatric services are too focused on weight. Psychologists were more likely than dietitians to agree that weighing patients are every appointment is not the right thing to do.

A Central Role for Diverse Lived Experiences

All of this is a reminder of the importance of keeping the diverse lived experiences of people with obesity at the center of everything that has the intention of addressing obesity. This is certainly evident at ECO2022, where vignettes of people with diverse perspectives display on banners throughout the convention center.

Because without respect for the dignity of people living with obesity, we will never overcome the impact it has on physical and mental health. In fact, we will only make it worse. In the history of rising obesity prevalence, that has been the case all too often.

You can find the abstracts for ECO2022 here and the abstract for Abbott’s study on page 37.

Sally Abbott at ECO2022, photograph by Ted Kyle / Conscienhealth

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May 5, 2022