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Weight Bias Among Health Care Providers Harms Patients with Obesity, According to Osteopathic Physicians

DOs at OMED 16 recommend empathy and a whole-person approach to provide quality care for a complex condition

By AOA Media Team


ANAHEIM, Calif., Sept. 19, 2016Research indicates nearly 70 percent of patients with obesity have encountered weight bias from a physician, leading many to avoid care and damaging their mental and physical health, according to osteopathic physicians specializing in obesity medicine.

Studies found the consequences of such attitudes toward patients to include poor rapport, decreased respect, less time spent in appointments and avoidance of some health screenings, according to Colony Fugate, DO, Clinical Professor of Pediatrics at Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences.

These attitudes, in turn, mean patients with obesity are more likely to delay or cancel appointments, avoid preventative care and engage in unhealthy weight control measures or binge-eating, researchers noted. Dr. Fugate offered practical approaches to reducing weight bias at OMED 16, the annual medical conference for osteopathic physicians (DOs), held September 17-20 in Anaheim, California.

“Obesity is not a matter of willpower. It’s a complex condition with negative impacts on a patient’s mind, body and spirit. Confronting our attitudes toward this disease is an important facet of providing high-quality care for patients,” Dr. Fugate said.

Treating obesity is compounded by weight bias because researchers noted that funding for less stigmatized diseases is significantly higher than that for obesity. “Public health officials abdicate responsibility by focusing on individual control, rather than addressing the complex etiologies of obesity,” Dr. Fugate explained. “As an osteopathic physician, I encourage my colleagues to see the person inside the patient first and deal with the medical concern that brought them to the office, rather than assuming the patient’s excess weight is their primary issue.”

Strategies to Reduce Weight Bias*

Accept that patients are likely to have had negative experiences with health professionals and approach them with empathy

Recognize that genetics, biology, cultural influences, environment and individual behavior contribute to obesity

Ask permission to discuss a patient’s weight

Acknowledge that most patients have tried to lose weight

Equip your office with higher capacity scales, gowns and larger sized chairs and blood pressure cuffs

Source: The Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity

Failure to address weight bias decreases the physician’s ability to prevent disease, which is a basic philosophy of osteopathic medicine. It also hinders their effectiveness in improving patients’ health.

“The overriding goal in osteopathic medicine is to promote patient health and wellbeing. By reflecting on our biases, all physicians can improve the quality of care they provide to patients with obesity and I encourage health care providers to analyze the literature with an eye toward compassionate care,” Dr. Fugate added.

About OMED 16

OMED 16 is the American Osteopathic Association’s annual medical education event offering clinical and research updates in 15 specialties, with an emphasis on osteopathic principles and practices.

The osteopathic philosophy of medicine takes a whole person approach to prevention, diagnosis and treatment, giving its practitioners a distinct model for clinical problem solving and patient education.  OMED welcomes all health care professionals– including MDs, nurse practitioners and physician assistants—interested in osteopathic medicine’s collaborative approach to increasingly complex medical issues.

To learn more about DOs and the osteopathic approach to medicine, visit​