Although some doctors and nurses seems to think stigma and shame can help motivate patients to lose weight, the opposite seems to be true, according to a doctor's commentary published today in the Los Angeles Times.
"People who are exposed to stigmatizing situations are more likely to engage in unhealthy eating behaviors and less likely to be physically active," said Rebecca Puhl, director of research at the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University, who was interviewed for the piece.
Indeed, most women in one study coped with stigma over their weight by eating more food or refusing to diet.
What's more, humiliating interactions may make overweight patients unwilling to seek out medical care, which means their other medical problems likely will go untreated, as well. Puhl says that healthcare providers need to adjust their expectations, pointing out that losing weight isn't just about having patients go on diets. An inability to diet down to a healthy weight isn't due to just lack of motivation, according to Puhl.
She also calls on healthcare providers to recognize that even relatively small changes in weight count as progress toward better health. Most people can't lose more than 10 percent of their body weight and keep the weight off over time, she says.
Dr. Valerie Ulene, the commentary's author and a preventive medicine specialist whose siblings tortured her when she was an overweight child, says that patients who are overweight deserve to be treated compassionately and effectively. "It's not just the right thing to do, it's the best approach for successful treatment," she writes.
To learn more:
- here's the Los Angeles Times commentary
Too often, MDs blame obese patients' ills on fat
To help patients lose weight, don't call them fat
Health-conscious docs more likely to offer lifestyle advice
Conquering chronic disease with lifestyle medicine
Guest Commentary: Brad Wilson on fighting obesity