Doctors and Discrimination: What You Should Know

I’ve recently been reading about something that is very upsetting to me, and I think might bother you, as well: Obese and overweight patients are less likely to have good medical care than “normal” weight patients.

One of the reasons this can happen is that people who are overweight or obese are often anxious about, and therefore avoid, accessing medical care. If you skip out on this critical step, you’re less likely to be diagnosed early when it comes to a disease, and you’re less likely to know about preventative measures that would help you.

Even more awful is that those who fall into the overweight and obese category may be anxious about visiting a doctor because they feel discriminated against.

And these patients aren’t just imagining it, either. In the book Secrets from the Eating Lab, Dr. Traci Mann cites research that shows in a survey of over 600 doctors, at least half reported seeing obese patients as "unattractive and non-compliant" (among other things), and a third viewed them as "week-willed and lazy".

The book goes on to say that at a scientific convention (that was actually about the study and treatment of obesity), fat people were rated as more worthless and lazy than thin people by obesity researchers and doctors—the very people who care for these patients!

I am not telling you this to make you less likely to seek a doctor’s care, or to increase fear or negative feelings about seeing a physician, I’m telling you this because knowledge is power.

Nugget of knowledge one: Studies show that discrimination leads to stress, which leads to negative health outcomes. This shows two things: one is that there are more factors that go into your health than just your weight; this information may help you be kinder and gentler to yourself. The second thing this shows is that if you, personally, feel stressed out about seeing your doctor, it may lead to a not-great health outcome.

Nugget of knowledge two: Learning about the discriminatory behavior of doctors can also be used to your advantage. If you feel afraid to visit your doctor, for fear he or she will give you a hard time about your weight or tell you to lose weight even if you’re visiting about a sore throat or broken finger, it’s a clear sign you might want to look into finding a new physician.

You deserve the best medical care possible, and that means having the most understanding, helpful, non-discriminating doctor possible. You wouldn’t continue seeing a physician if he made sexist remarks or racist comments, would you?

But how do you go about finding a great doctor? One who sees you for you, not your weight?

One suggestion is to call ahead and ask questions. Ask if the provider you will be seeing has worked with patients of your size. Ask specifically if they treat patients of your size equally. Put them on the spot.

Another thing to do is take the attitude that you are in charge of your health and deserve to ask questions and make informed choices. If you feel you’re getting an answer that is based on your weight, ask for clarification. Ask if thin people develop the same condition as you have, and assuming the answer is yes, ask what their diagnosis would be and how the doctor would have them deal with their issue.

You’re in charge of your life and health. Make sure you’re getting the best possible care from your doctor.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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