You’d think doctors might be more sensitive to people who struggle with weight than the average person. But you’d be wrong, according to research that has found physicians are just as biased against obese people as the general public.
The study, published in the Public Library of Science journal PLOS ONE, suggests the medical community has more work to do to counter a strong anti-fat bias among medical doctors who may be in the best position to help obese people lose weight and stay healthy.
“We found that MDs' implicit and explicit attitudes about weight follow the same general pattern seen in the very large public samples that hold strong implicit and explicit anti-fat bias," said lead researcher Sabin from the University of Washington, Seattle.
"It is not surprising that implicit and explicit weight bias exists among doctors, similar to the general population. It is important for physicians to be aware that this bias exists and to ensure that personal bias does not have a negative impact on the doctor-patient relationship."
Sabin and colleagues from the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, reached their conclusions by testing the anti-fat biases of nearly 400,000 participants, including more than 2,000 doctors. All the participants reported a strong preference for thin people rather than fat people in a web-based test. MDs who were underweight, normal, or overweight had a strong anti-fat bias; MDs who were obese themselves had a moderate bias.
Researchers couldn’t say whether there is an association between these attitudes about weight and patient reports of weight discrimination in quality of health care.
"We do not yet know how MDs anti-fat attitudes affect clinical behavior, nor do we know whether implicit weight bias is related to how overweight patients experience health care interactions," they said.