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Updated: October 23, 2009 20:03 IST

Doctors have less respect for obese patients: Study

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Physician attitudes toward obesity, affect quality of care for those patients. Photo: P.V. Sivakumar
P_V_Sivakumar
Physician attitudes toward obesity, affect quality of care for those patients. Photo: P.V. Sivakumar

Physicians need to be educated that obesity bias and discrimination exist.

Johns Hopkins researchers have raised concerns over physicians’ pessimistic attitude towards obese patients. Their study showed that doctors have less respect for their obese patients than they do for patients of normal weight.

In the study involving 238 patients, the researchers found that as patients had higher body mass index (BMI), physicians reported lower respect for them. It showed that each 10-unit increase in BMI was associated with a 14 percent higher prevalence of low patient respect.

Patients and physicians completed questionnaires about their visit, their attitudes, and their perceptions of one another upon the completion of the encounter. On average, the patients for whom physicians expressed low respect had higher BMI than patients for whom they had high respect.

Previous studies have shown that when physicians respect their patients, patients get more information from their doctors. Some patients who don’t feel respected may avoid the health care system altogether.

“The next step is to really understand how physician attitudes toward obesity affect quality of care for those patients, to really understand how this affects outcomes,” said Dr. Mary Margaret Huizinga, M.P.H., an Assistant Professor of General Internal Medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

“If a doctor has a patient with obesity and has low respect for that person, is the doctor less likely to recommend certain types of weight loss programs or to send her for cancer screening? We need to understand these things better,” she added. Ultimately, she says, physicians need to be educated that obesity bias and discrimination exist.

The study appears in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

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