Chalk Paths

Bias of Obesity Professionals: A Fork in the Road?

A new study of professionals with an interest in obesity reminds us that implicit and explicit weight bias seem to be on different tracks. It’s as if there’s been a fork in the road. On one hand, these obesity-focused professionals were less likely to show explicit weight bias than control groups of other persons. But they were no different compared to those control groups when it came to implicit bias.

It is as if the obesity professionals know how to hide their bias better than others who are not paying attention. Is this progress?

A National Obesity Conference in Germany

Tobias Jungnickel and colleagues analyzed data on explicit and implicit weight bias from three groups. Professionals participating in a national obesity conference in Germany were the primary group of interest. For a control group, the researchers used a sample of professionals without an expressed interest in obesity. They also used historical controls from Project Implicit.

In the data on explicit bias, the obesity professionals were significantly more likely to be neutral – express no bias against – higher weight individuals, compared to either of the control groups. However, all three groups were just as biased when the measure is implicit bias.

With all the attention to weight bias in recent years, it seems that folks are being careful about letting their negative attitudes show. But in a culture filled with cues for aversion to larger bodies, implicit bias is a whole different matter.

Implicit and Explicit Bias PatternsFake It Till You Make It?

This is hardly the first time we’ve seen a divergence between implicit and explicit weight bias. And honestly, if this means that expressing fat phobia is becoming socially undesirable, then it’s not a bad thing. Hearts change more slowly than actions.

Some people might like the idea of blunt honesty in expressing attitudes that go against the grain. But the fake it till we make it paradigm seems more desirable right now. We can keep on working toward changing hearts even as we celebrate a trend in the right direction for outright expressions of bias.

Click here for the Jungnickel study and here for more on weight bias among healthcare professionals.

Chalk Paths, painting by Eric Ravilious / WikiArt

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June 2, 2022