A recent review of research shows that not only is fat-shaming in the doctor's clinic mentally detrimental to patients, but it can also lead to actual physical harm. It can lead to medicine under-dosing and even misdiagnosis.
Fat-Shaming In The Doctor's Clinic
Though doctors may even be unaware that what they are doing is considered as fat-shaming, a recent review of research presented in the 125th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association shows that medical discrimination based on the patients' size could lead to serious physical harm.
This act includes excluding overweight people from medical research, providing weight loss advice instead of recommending diagnosis procedures, recommending different medical procedures based on body size, and assuming that a medical problem is merely a weight problem.
In a symposium entitled "Weapons of Mass Distraction — Confronting Sizeism," professor of psychology Joan Chrisler, Ph.D. described the detrimental effects of fat-shaming on patients.
For instance, because overweight people are often excluded from medical research due to preconceived ideas about their health status, they are then often given under-dosed medication. Similarly, there are instances wherein doctors would provide weight loss advice to their patients instead of ordering diagnostic procedures on the assumption that their weight is the cause of the experienced symptoms.
This is problematic because it leads to psychological stress and misdiagnosis. What's more, patients who have experienced such attitudes may delay or even avoid going to health care providers. In fact, in a review of over 300 autopsy reports, obese people were seen to be 1.65 times more likely to have undiagnosed serious medical conditions, which could point to inadequate health care access.
"Recommending different treatments for patients with the same condition based on their weight is unethical and a form of malpractice," said Chrisler.
Apart from decisions made by medical practitioners with regard to the patients' weight, overweight patients may also experience fat-shaming in the doctors' clinic in the form of microaggressions. These acts refer to small gestures that point to a health practitioner's negative attitudes toward overweight patients.
For instance, a medical practitioner could shake his head or wince while charting a patient's weight, or even show an obvious reluctance to touch a larger sized patient. These microaggressions lead to a patient's stigmatization because of his or her weight.
Presenters at the symposium argue against a weight-centric model of health, which is essentially viewing a person's weight as a predictor of health. In other words, it views higher weight as a marker of poor health habits, and weight loss as a sign of improved health when other factors such as genetics and poverty may play a role in being heavier.
According to Maureen McHugh, Ph.D., another psychologist who also presented about fat shaming in the symposium, it has been proven that fat-shaming is not an effective means of inciting weight loss and improved health, but instead serious risks for psychological and physical health.
As such, both Chrisler and McHugh believe that in the aspects of treatment, theory, and research, weight stigma must be addressed in the medical profession. What's more, mental and physical health, not weight, must be the desired outcomes in the medical practice.