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Are Doctors Fatphobic? An Exploration of Weight Bias in Healthcare


Negative attitude towards overweight and obese individuals are common among the general public, and unfortunately also within the medical community. Weight has numerous contributors, including but not limited to genetics, socioeconomic status, access to fresh produce, abuse and trauma, cultural standards of beauty, and neighborhood safety. Patients who experience weight bias and weight stigma during medical visits may avoid or delay seeking care in the future, further exacerbating their health problems. The purpose of this project is to evaluate the physician’s perspective on the many factors that contribute to weight, and how to motivate patients to live healthier lives without shaming them. Through physician interviews, this study explores alternative approaches to evaluating and discussing body size and its relation to health. The participants were 10 Rhode Island physicians currently practicing in Family Medicine, Pediatrics, or General Internal Medicine. These semi-structured interviews consisted of 15 open-ended questions about weight, nutrition, and exercise, and how to approach conversations with patients on these often sensitive topics. Qualitative analysis revealed five major themes: 1) physician burnout and provider fatigue, 2) sedentary, productivity-driven society, 3) lack of access and resources, 4) shifting focus from weight to lifestyle, and 5) moving away from a narrative of shame. The interviews revealed that most physicians do not intentionally perpetuate weight bias. Many providers feel disempowered because they cannot directly help their patients with the majority of factors that contribute to their weight. If physicians normalize conversations about body image in a non-stigmatizing manner, patients may feel more comfortable seeking medical care and less embarrassment about discussing weight-related health issues.
Scholarly concentration: Medical Humanities and Ethics

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Li, Paula, and Donaldson, Abigail, "Are Doctors Fatphobic? An Exploration of Weight Bias in Healthcare" (2019). Warren Alpert Medical School Academic Symposium. Brown Digital Repository. Brown University Library.



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