• Sunday, June 04, 2023


Doctors and nurses ‘weight shame’ obese patients, research reveals

In the UK, two-thirds of adults are either overweight or obese.

Representational image (iStock)

By: Pramod Thomas

A new research has revealed that doctors and nurses often ‘weight-shame’ obese patients leaving them anxious, depressed and wrongly blaming themselves for their condition, The Guardian reported.

As a result, they felt humiliated, skipped medical appointments, and ended up in putting on more weight, it added.

In the UK, two-thirds of adults are either overweight or obese, and there’s a great concern over the potential burden on the NHS as obesity increases the risk of several deadly diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, and some cancers.

The authors of the study have urged health professionals to treat people more sensitively as ‘excess weight is guaranteed’ in modern society.

Dr Anastasia Kalea and colleagues at University College London analysed 25 previous studies about overweight, involving 3,554 health professionals, in different countries. They found that health staff, including doctors, nurses, dieticians, psychologists and even obesity specialists have often ‘weight-shamed’ patients.

“A number of health professionals believe their patients are lazy, lack self-control, overindulge, are hostile, dishonest, have poor hygiene and do not follow guidance. Sadly, healthcare, including general practice, is one of the most common settings for weight stigmatisation and we know this acts as a barrier to the services and treatments that can help people manage weight,” Kalea, an associate professor in UCL’s division of medicine, was quoted as saying by the Guardian.

“An example is a GP that will unconsciously show that they do not believe that the patient complies with their eat less/exercise more regime they were asked to follow as they are not losing weight. Or [it could be] a dietitian, as specialist in weight management, judging the patient for not being able to follow a very low-calorie diet for a long period of time but not providing other support. Or a nurse that will be bothered by the patient needing a different set of scales to take down their weight.”

Interestingly, researchers found that these patients were happy with the online sessions for their treatments during lockdown as ‘they were not judged’.

The study, published in the journal Obesity Reviews, has urged health staff to use patient-first language such as ‘a patient with obesity’, not ‘an obese patient’, ‘someone who is managing their weight’, not ‘struggling with their weight’ etc.

Tam Fry, the chairman of the National Obesity Forum, has called for proper education for healthcare professionals while dealing with patients with obesity. It’s disgraceful that they stigmatise patients for being overweight, he said.

“Obesity has never been a ‘personal problem’. Healthcare professionals need to get wise to the fact that many individuals affected are powerless to overcome the obesogenic environment in which they live, notably the ultra-processed food which slick advertising and relentless marketing encourages them to eat,” he was quoted as saying by the Guardian.

“They are invariably cash-poor and depend on this cheap but less than healthy food to live – an environment from which they have no escape.”

Eastern Eye

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