Don't let obesity stand in the way of patient care

Young patient Rebecca Hiles says the fact doctors were so focused on her weight rather than the real cause of her respiratory problems cost her a lung, and could have cost her life, according to a report by STAT.

Stiles, who is overweight, was 16 and a senior in high school when she developed a persistent cough. Over the next seven years, 11 different doctors diagnosed her with various conditions and advised her to lose weight. After a visit to the emergency department with more severe symptoms, she was referred to a pulmonologist and a CT scan detected a tumor in her lung.

Stiles is just one example of a patient where doctors were too focused on her weight, according to the article  "Our cultural obsession with appearance may bleed over into the exam room, leading doctors to disproportionately focus on weight and to interact with fat patients differently from thin ones. It's a stigma that can bring sometimes life-and-death consequences," according to STAT.

The American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists recently shared new evidence-based guidelines on treating obesity, which it now classifies as a chronic disease

But the article noted that recent research has found doctors are more concerned about women patients' weight than their risk for heart disease, the leading cause of death among women. Obese women often delay preventive care, including breast exams and pap smears, another study found.

Instead of shaming obese patients, doctors need to provide a safe space for patient care, the article said. For physicians, it's a balancing act. Weight-based stigma shouldn't stand in the way of patient care. Yet, some doctors say it is a disservice to patients not to talk about obesity and to treat it as a chronic disease.

To learn more:
- read the article