Medical discrimination based on people’s size and negative stereotypes of overweight people can take a toll on people’s physical health and well-being, according to a review of recent research presented at the 125th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association.
“Disrespectful treatment and medical fat shaming, in an attempt to motivate people to change their behavior, is stressful and can cause patients to delay health care seeking or avoid interacting with providers,” presenter Joan Chrisler, PhD, a professor of psychology at Connecticut College, said during a symposium titled “Weapons of Mass Distraction — Confronting Sizeism.”
Sizeism can also have an effect on how doctors medically treat patients, as overweight people are often excluded from medical research based on assumptions about their health status, Chrisler said, meaning the standard dosage for drugs may not be appropriate for larger body sizes. Recent studies have shown frequent under-dosing of overweight patients who were prescribed antibiotics and chemotherapy, she added.
“Recommending different treatments for patients with the same condition based on their weight is unethical and a form of malpractice,” Chrisler said. “Research has shown that doctors repeatedly advise weight loss for fat patients while recommending CAT scans, blood work or physical therapy for other, average weight patients.”
In some cases, providers might not take fat patients’ complaints seriously or might assume that their weight is the cause of any symptoms they experience, Chrisler added. “Thus, they could jump to conclusions or fail to run appropriate tests, which results in misdiagnosis,” she said.
In one study of over 300 autopsy reports, obese patients were 1.65 times more likely than others to have significant undiagnosed medical conditions (e.g., endocarditis, ischemic bowel disease or lung carcinoma), indicating misdiagnosis or inadequate access to health care.