Fat-shaming can keep obese patients away from the doctor’s office

It can be tough for patients who are overweight to visit a doctor’s office. But that experience gets worse if the patient is fat-shamed by his or her physician.

“Fat-shaming is everywhere--in the comments section [of web sites], in our workplaces, on the street, and yes, in our doctor's offices,” according to Revelist.

The web site published comments from patients who were fat-shamed by their doctors. “My doctor suggested bariatric surgery so that I’d have 'better luck with the fellas.' I was in for an ear infection,” wrote one patient. Another wrote that any time an overweight patient goes to the doctor, whatever is wrong is blamed on his or her weight. Rebecca Hiles is one example. She wrote about her experience when doctors failed to diagnose her lung cancer because they were so focused on her weight.

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Another patient complained about her doctor asking about her diet. “Before I could open my mouth, [my] doctor gives me the side eye and snorts 'not good,'" the woman tweeted. Another said she delays visits to the doctor because she can’t stand another lecture about her weight.

“The doctor's office should be a safe place; we put our lives in their hands. But rude comments and stereotypical diagnoses can make it feel like anything but,” Jessica Torres, the article's author, wrote on Revelist.

Instead of shaming obese patients, doctors need to provide a safe space for patient care. For physicians, it can be a balancing act. While they don’t want to harp on a patient’s weight, it can be a disservice to patients not to talk about obesity and to treat it as a chronic disease.

Another part of the problem for doctors is that, despite the development of guidelines for weight management, not many weight loss programs use them. This creates an issue for clinicians looking to refer obese patients to an effective weight-loss program. Successful treatment requires patient education and, more importantly, a plan to follow up and ensure patients actually act on recommended changes. But ironically, fat-shaming can make patients, who may need help from doctors the most to improve their health, fear those visits.

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