Even Obesity Specialists Are Biased Against the Obese

No sur­pris­es here for me:
Even health pro­fes­sion­als who treat obe­si­ty are biased against over­weight patients

From Yale University:
New Haven, Conn. — Obe­si­ty spe­cial­ists from physi­cians and researchers to phar­ma­col­o­gists and psy­chol­o­gists, showed sig­nif­i­cant anti-fat bias accord­ing to a recent Yale study. 

“The stig­ma of obe­si­ty is so strong that even those most knowl­edge­able about the con­di­tion infer that obese peo­ple have blame­wor­thy behav­ioral char­ac­ter­is­tics that con­tribute to their prob­lem, i.e. being lazy,” said Mar­lene Schwartz, asso­ciate research sci­en­tist in the Depar­ment of Psy­chol­o­gy and lead researcher of the study pub­lished this month in the jour­nal, Obe­si­ty Research. “Fur­ther­more, these bias­es extend to core char­ac­ter­is­tics of intel­li­gence and per­son­al worth.” 

“On both implic­it and explic­it mea­sures, health pro­fes­sion­als asso­ci­at­ed the stereo­types lazy, stu­pid and worth­less with obese peo­ple,” she said. There also was a sig­nif­i­cant rela­tion­ship between age and bias; younger peo­ple show greater bias. 

She said the find­ings were par­tic­u­lar­ly note­wor­thy since the sam­ple was com­prised of pro­fes­sion­als who treat and study obe­si­ty, a group that under­stands that obe­si­ty results from genet­ic and envi­ron­men­tal fac­tors and is not sim­ply a func­tion of indi­vid­ual behavior. 

The study extend­ed ear­li­er research by iden­ti­fy­ing pre­dic­tors of bias lev­el. Health pro­fes­sion­als who work direct­ly with obese patients showed less bias than those who did not. In addi­tion, feel­ings of under­stand­ing the expe­ri­ence of obe­si­ty and hav­ing obese friends were asso­ci­at­ed with low­er lev­els of bias. 

The study includ­ed health pro­fes­sion­als attend­ing the open­ing ses­sion of an inter­na­tion­al obe­si­ty con­fer­ence in Que­bec City. Three hun­dred eighty nine clin­i­cians and researchers were giv­en the Implic­it Asso­ci­a­tions Test (IAT) and a self-report ques­tion­naire assess­ing explic­it atti­tudes, per­son­al expe­ri­ences with obe­si­ty, and demo­graph­ic characteristics. 

The IAT is a timed mea­sure of auto­mat­ic asso­ci­a­tions. It was used in this study to assess over­all implic­it weight bias, asso­ci­at­ing “obese peo­ple” with “bad” and “thin peo­ple” with “good,” as well as three ranges of stereo­types: lazy-moti­vat­ed, smart-stu­pid, and valu­able worth­less. The ques­tion­naire assessed explic­it bias on the same cri­te­ria, along with per­son­al and pro­fes­sion­al expe­ri­ences with obesity.

Cyn is Katie's mom, Esther's Mémé, and a Support Engineer. She lives in the Atlanta area with her life partner, Rick, and their critters. She knits, does counted-thread needlework, reads, makes music, plays TTRPGs, and spends too much time online.
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