Weight bias refers to negative attitudes and discrimination against people because of their body weight.
In the WebMD Webinar “The Impact of Weight Bias”, Joe Nadglowski explained that it’s common in our society – even among doctors and other health care providers.
“One way or another, we have ensured that people living with obesity ‘bad’ – and that’s a problem,” he said. “It actually compounds that problem for those of us living with obesity.”
It can affect almost every aspect of your life:
Career. When you’re living with obesity, research shows employers often think you’re:
- Less likely to have leadership potential
- Unlikely to be successful at work
- Less qualified
And if you’re hired, research shows you’ll likely have a lower starting salary. This bias affects women even more.
“This discrimination is not illegal in most places,” Nadglowski said. “So it’s important that we really educate hiring managers about these unconscious biases they have towards obese people.”
Health. You can’t expect to find weight bias among health care providersbut studies show that it is not uncommon.
“We actually don’t teach obesity to most health care providers in their training,” Nadglowski said.
This can lead to lower quality care for obese people, he said. Doctors may not spend as much time with you, and they may offer you fewer treatment options than they give other patients, research shows.
It’s no surprise, then, that people with obesity are more likely to delay or cancel medical appointments, to avoid judgment from medical professionals, studies show.
But tools and training are increasingly available for obesity health care. Hopefully, this will help reduce weight bias in medical settings, Nadglowski says.
Family, friends and society. Unfortunately, it is common for obese people to face most weight-related prejudice and stigma from their own friends and family.
- More social rejection from their peers
- Decline in the quality of personal relationships
- Less success in school or work
While some may feel like they need to “motivate” or pressure you to lose weight, Nadglowski says it’s actually harmful.
“The data is very clear. If you stigmatize, blame and shame someone because of their body weight, they’re not going to lose weight,” he said.
“In fact, the opposite is going to happen, as they will binge on food, engage in unhealthy weight control, or face the stigma of eating more food.”
Of the different types of media listed in a webinar poll, about half of respondents said they notice weight biases the most in TV shows. Over 30% said they noticed it the most in fashion magazines.
In another poll, a third of respondents said they were surprised to learn that weight bias can lead to obesity.
“What’s the first step if you think you’ve been the victim of weight bias from a doctor?”
“What’s the best way to find a doctor who isn’t biased by weight?”
“What is your advice for someone facing the double discrimination of weight and mental health biases?”
Ask your doctor if your treatment options would be different if you had a smaller body size. If so, ask for the same care.
In some cases, this may help your doctor realize they have a weight bias. It can help them think differently. But if they continue to be biased, it might be a good idea to find another doctor.
To find physicians trained in obesity, ask if they have certification from the American Board of Obesity Medicine. Or look for places known as Centers of Excellence in Bariatric Surgery and call them for a list of qualified doctors. You can also use the Obesity Action Coalition’s provider locator on the obesitycareproviders.com website.
Dealing with both weight bias and mental health bias is extremely difficult. If you live with both conditions, you might be on mental health medications that make it harder to manage or lose weight. Nadglowski says it’s crucial to find a doctor who understands all of your needs.
You may need to try a few doctors before you find a good fit.
“It’s often a bit random,” he said. “Find someone who treats you with compassion, dignity and respect. It makes all the difference in the world.
“What is the best approach for an obese person whose family members stigmatize rather than support? »
“As an overweight mother, how can I be a healthy role model for my children in terms of acceptance of my body, but also the desire to lose weight?”
If you have unsupportive family members, it’s important to address the issue from the start.
Nadglowski says it may be helpful to share some of the information from this webinar. This can help them reframe their view of obesity. Tell them it’s pointless and hurtful to hear unfavorable comments.
“It’s important that you put your foot down in these situations,” Nadglowski says. “And if you need additional resources on how to do that, or resources to share with your family, contact us at obesityaction.org.”
To set a good example for the young people around you, adopt healthy behaviors. If you’re losing weight, focus on good habits that promote weight loss rather than a certain “ideal” body size, appearance, or scale.
“How Does Weight Bias Affect Educational Opportunity and Achievement?”
“How does weight bias affect those trying to recover from anorexia and other eating disorders?”
A weight bias study tracked graduate students based on their height, grades, and acceptance into graduate programs.
“The study showed that obese people had better grades, but had lower interview scores and were actually less accepted into graduate programs,” Nadglowski said. This shows how assumptions about the character and behavior of obese people can affect decisions.
Weight bias doesn’t just affect obese people. “Prejudice and stigma actually work both ways,” he says. “When we talk about weight bias, that could also relate to people who are underweight.”
The health consequences of being underweight often resemble those of being overweight. Communities that work with eating disorders support efforts to address weight bias.
“People’s body size is their business,” Nadglowski says.
“Unless you’re asked to comment on someone’s height, I encourage you not to go down that road. Even if you think you’re giving compliments, some people may lose weight because they have an eating disorder. People might lose weight because they have cancer. It’s not always appropriate to compliment someone based on these issues.