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Harvard Health Blog
Addressing weight bias in medicine
- By Fatima Cody Stanford, MD, MPH, MPA, FAAP, FACP, FTOS, Contributor
As a service to our readers, Harvard Health Publishing provides access to our library of archived content. Please note the date of last review or update on all articles. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.
I appreciate this post and agree that physicians need to make strides to reduce weight bias, but they also need to be held accountable, and the way to do that is to advocate for legal protections for people of size. Weight bias and discrimination are increasing, and millions of Americans of larger size need the protection of the law because discrimination is happening at alarming rates. In fact, it has recently been discovered that weight discrimination has increased by 66% in the last ten years, making it equal to racial discrimination. (Fruh et al., 2016). Legislation must be created to protect patients, employees, and customers from discrimination.
Fruh, S., Nadglowski, J., Hall, H., Davis, S., Crook, E., & Zlomke, K. (2016). Obesity Stigma and Bias. The Journal for Nurse Practitioners. 12(7): 425-472. doi: 10.1016/j.nurpra.2016.05.013
Dr Stanford makes some excellent points. Stigmatization of people of size is not only unfair, it is misguided. It is rare for anyone to lose weight and keep it off because they were harassed about it. That goes for kids and adults alike.
That said, I feel that part of the stigma of being fat is to have medical professionals believe that they have a disease. People come in all shapes and sizes. The definitions and cutoff weights that are associated with “overweight” and “obese” are completely arbitrary. Some experts, especially in Canada, feel that obesity is not a disease unless it accompanies a real disease. “People first” language is a good thing, but should not make it perfectly OK to insist on pathologizing someone’s larger body.
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