Combating Weight Stigma in Medicine

Researchers: Autumn Welker, MS-2; Tristen Lamb, MS-2

Research focus: Weight stigma is a pervasive issue amongst physicians, resulting in poorer medical care and causing tangible harm to our larger-bodied patients. Explicitly, physicians report having less respect for larger-bodied patients, characterizing them as “weak-willed” or “disgusting”. More implicitly, doctors have been shown to spend less time and build less rapport with their fat patients. These behaviors cause measurable harm. Patients experiencing discrimination based on their weight are less likely to engage in preventive screenings, while physicians who tend to attribute all physical symptoms to weight may miss diagnoses. Additionally, the lack of spaces, diagnostic tools, and medication dosages designed for larger-bodied people can result in the inability to make diagnoses or provide adequate treatment. Moreover, the chronic stress that comes with experiencing weight stigma has been linked to poorer health markers and maladaptive behaviors, including higher cortisol levels, decreased propensity to exercise, disordered eating, and ironically, weight gain.