It is well-established that doctors are human too – that is, they come with weaknesses and foibles just like the rest of us. For example, physicians who smoke are less likely to advise their patients to quit (recent source). Now, a study by Sara Bleich and colleagues published in Obesity shows that obese doctors might have a similar blind spot for their overweight patients.
In the paper “Impact of physician BMI on obesity care and beliefs,” Bleich and colleagues show that the probability of a physician recording an obesity diagnosis or initiating a weight loss conversation with their obese patients was respectively 13 and 8 times greater when the physician believed the patient’s weight to be equal to or greater than their own. Additionally, normal-BMI physicians were more likely to believe that physicians should model healthy exercise- and weight-related behaviors, and they also had greater confidence in their ability to provide diet and exercise counseling to their obese patients. By contrast overweight/obese physicians were more confident in prescribing weight loss medications, and were more likely to report success in helping patients lose weight. Clearly, the situation is complex…
The stigma of obesity is a real problem, and weight bias exists in employment, health care and education. The focus on how physicians provide obesity care is important due to the magnitude of this health issue both at societal and global levels. The results of studies like these range from the seemingly trivial, (e.g. patients’ preferred terms for describing obesity,) to more serious, but Bleich is not alone in urging improvement in the obesity care provided by all physicians, regardless of their personal body weight. Perhaps the key is getting physicians into better shape?
Written by Hanna Sofie Ellingsen at CERG.