Any visit to the doctor for a health problem should include time for the patient to explain symptoms and concerns. However, TODAY reports that for many people, the doctor’s weight bias prevents them from receiving the medical care that they need.
Studies and statistics show that physicians’ biases and lack of education are causing serious health problems for people who have obesity.
Misdiagnosis due to weight bias
Doctors do not spend as long in appointments with patients who have higher body weight, one study found, and women with obesity felt their doctors did not listen to them or include them in decisions. In that same study, women with a body mass index in the normal range believed that their doctors did spend adequate time with them in visits and that they felt included in the doctors’ decisions.
Many people reported that their doctors told them they must lose weight before they could undergo important medical procedures, even though this was not a medical necessity. In other cases, doctors who did not order tests for health problems and missed cancer and other life-threatening diagnoses.
Lack of obesity education
Why do doctors engage in these behaviors? Some of it is due to their own susceptibility to society’s biases about weight, but some experts point out that doctors do not receive obesity-specific training. Rather than understanding the many health and environmental factors that can contribute to the condition, they believe in a simple model of eating less and exercising more.
Awareness is one of the ways to combat weight bias in medicine. When victims of misdiagnosis hold their doctors liable for the harm the biases cause, it may help bring to light the need for obesity education in medical schools.