Weight bias refers to the negative attitudes and discrimination that people have because of their body weight.
In a WebMD webinar titled “The Weight Bias Effect,” Joe Nadjelowski explains that it’s common in our society — even among doctors and other healthcare providers.
“In a way, we’ve made obese people ‘bad’ — and that’s a problem,” he said. “It actually makes this problem worse for those of us who are obese.”
It can affect almost every aspect of your life:
Professional life. When you live with obesity, research shows that employers often think that you:
- Less likely to have leadership potential
- You are unlikely to have career success
- less qualified
And if you get hired, research shows you’re likely to get a lower starting salary. This bias affects women the most.
“This discrimination is not illegal in most places,” Nadjelovsky said. “So it’s important that we actually educate hiring managers about these unintended biases they have toward obese people.”
health. You may not expect to find Weight bias among healthcare providersHowever, studies show that it is not uncommon.
“We actually don’t educate most healthcare providers about obesity in their training,” Nadjlovski said.
He said this could lead to lower quality care for people with obesity. Research has shown that doctors may not spend as much time with you, and may offer you fewer treatment options than they would other patients.
So, it’s not surprising that people who are obese are more likely to delay or cancel medical appointments, to avoid the judgments of medical professionals, studies show.
But tools and training are increasingly available for obesity health care. Hopefully, this will help reduce weight bias in the medical community, says Nadglowski.
Family, friends and community. Unfortunately, it is common for people with obesity to experience the greatest amount of weight bias and stigma from their friends and family.
- More social rejection from peers
- Low quality of interpersonal relationships
- Less successes at school or work
While some may feel like they need to “motivate” you or pressure you to lose weight, Nadjelovsky says this is actually harmful.
The data is very clear. He said, “If you stigmatize someone and blame and shame them for their body weight, they won’t lose weight.”
“In fact, the opposite will happen, because they’ll binge eat, engage in some unhealthy weight control, or deal with stigma by eating more.”
Among the different types of media included in a webinar survey, about half of the respondents said they noticed a weight bias more often in TV shows. More than 30% said they notice it most in fashion magazines.
In another survey, a third of respondents said they were surprised to learn that weight bias can lead to obesity.
“What’s the first step if you feel like you’ve been subjected to weight bias by a doctor?”
“What’s the best way to find a non-weight-biased doctor?”
“What would your advice be to someone dealing with double weight discrimination and mental health biases?”
Ask your doctor if your treatment options would be different if your body size was smaller. If so, ask for the same care.
In some cases, this may be Help your doctor recognize that they have a weight bias. It may help them think differently. But if they continue to show bias, it might be a good idea to find another doctor.
To find doctors trained in obesity, ask if they are certified by the American Board of Obesity Medicine. Or find and contact sites known as Bariatric Surgery Centers of Excellence for a list of qualified doctors. You can also use the Obesity Action Coalition Provider Locator at obesitycareproviders.com.
It is very difficult to deal with weight bias and mental health bias at the same time. If you live with both conditions, you may be taking medications for your mental health that make it difficult to manage or lose weight. It’s crucial to find a doctor who understands all of your needs, Nadglowski says.
You may have to try a few doctors before you find the right one.
“It’s often a bit of a hit and miss,” 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 someone with obesity whose family members stigmatize rather than support them?”
“As an overweight mom, how can I set a healthy role model for my kids in terms of accepting my body, but also wanting to lose weight?”
If you have unsupportive family members, it is important to address the issue up front.
Nadglowski says it might be helpful to share some information from this webinar. This may help them reframe the way they view obesity. Tell them that it is unhelpful and hurtful to hear unsupportive comments.
“It’s important to get your foot in these situations,” Nadglowski says. “And if you need additional resources on how to do this, or resources to share with your family, reach out to us at obesityaction.org.”
To set a good example for the young people in your life, model healthy behaviors. If you’re on a weight loss journey, focus on the good habits that support weight loss rather than your “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 study on weight bias tracked graduate-level students based on their body size, grades, and admissions to graduate programs.
“The study showed that people who were obese had better grades, but lower grades in interviews, and they were actually lower accepted into graduate programs,” Nadjelovsky said. This shows how assumptions about the personality and behavior of obese people can influence decisions.
Weight bias doesn’t just affect those who are obese. “Prejudice and stigma work both ways,” he says. “When we talk about weight bias, it could be for people who are underweight, too.”
The health consequences of being underweight are often similar to those of being overweight. Communities dealing with eating disorders support efforts to combat weight bias.
“People’s body size is their business,” says Nadglowski.
“Unless you’re invited to comment on someone’s body size, I encourage you not to get involved. Even if you think you’re a supplement – people may lose weight because they have an eating disorder. People may lose weight because they have cancer. It’s not always appropriate that You compliment someone based on these issues.”