Weight Bias in Healthcare

When we’re sick, we go to the doctor. When we need medical assistance, we go to the doctor. When we’re concerned about our weight, we go to the doctor, but they won’t treat us – wait, what did I just say?

You read that correctly. At least that’s what happened to a Massachusetts woman who attempted to see a primary care physician (PCP). The woman, Ida Davidson, was denied care because of her weight. Dr. Carter, a Massachusetts PCP denied Ms. Davidson access to care because, her employees were injured while trying to care for patients affected by obesity.

As a healthcare professional myself, I cannot imagine denying a patient care because of their weight. With the overwhelming data present today illustrating obesity’s impact on health, how can we possibly turn away ANYONE wanting to address their weight. This example is one of the main reasons why individuals affected by obesity delay important routine health visits – the fear of stigmatization by their healthcare provider. Even more impactful is the fact that it was a PCP who discriminated against Ms. Davidson. We’re taught that the PCP is the “gatekeeper” so-to-speak when it comes to our health. Many insurance providers require you to see your PCP prior to seeing a specialist for any reason.

Hypothetically speaking, if a patient affected by obesity is denied care by a PCP, that patient may not realize that they’re at risk for serious obesity related conditions such as type 2 diabetes, hypertension, sleep apnea and more. Why do you ask? Because the PCP would’ve begun the initial consult to help recognize these conditions, but in this case, that didn’t happen.

So, what’s next? Well, thankfully, there are many PCP’s in medical society. Although I haven’t personally spoken with Ms. Davidson, I would strongly encourage her to find another PCP who fully upholds the Physician’s Hippocratic Oath which states:

I will apply dietetic measures for the benefit of the sick according to my ability and judgment; I will keep them from harm and injustice.

Recognizing that your weight is impacting your health is not always an easy task and for those that have taken that crucial first step, the PCP’s office should be a place of comfort, knowledge, treatment and understanding. I commend Ms. Davidson for taking a proactive approach with her health. It saddens me that Dr. Carter reacted the way she did. I can only hope that she re-evaluate her treatment plan for individuals affected by obesity – as more than 93 million Americans are battling this disease every day.

Thank you,

Pam Davis, RN, BSN, CBN, OAC Chairperson

For the full story on Ms. Davidson, click here.

Note: The OAC has sent a letter directly to Dr. Carter expressing our concerns and disappointment and offering her resources to educate herself and her staff on weight bias in healthcare. As of this blog post, the OAC has not received a response from Dr. Carter.

7 Comments for this Post
  • Claire Peters
    September 11, 2012 at 7:48 pm

    Your last paragraph is exactly what i am so passionate about.

    I am 5.5 years post op (RNY), and have been affected by excess weight or obesity all my life. NO doctor, right up until I made the decision for weight loss surgery, EVER told me that if I lost weight my back pain would go away. They saw me sitting in that wheelchair, in tears, for years, with congenital lumbar spine disease, and no doctor EVER gave me any solutions regarding weight – and that WAS the solution. No doctor ever mentioned that the core of my body’s gravity would change, and chances were good that it would be for the better.

    I am now a normal weight, with no back pain. I rest my case.

    In that 5.5 years I have heard countless stories from people like myself, right up until recently, recounting how doctors are ill-informed and uneducated on this subject. The AMA needs to get involved in this. Seriously.

    My step daughter is a physician, and when I described my opinions on this, her response was that doctors don’t bring up obesity to a person affected by obesity because that patient would go elsewhere. WHATTTT?????

    PLEASE, OAC, get on THIS bandwagon. It is just as important to advocate to the AMA as it is to advocate to the government.

    Claire Peters

    • Pam Davis
      September 11, 2012 at 8:34 pm

      Clair, thank you for your comments and sharing your story. At both a local and a national level the OAC will continue to work toward ending the bias, stigma and discrimination leveled at those with obesity. It begins with each and every one of us. Our actions set a precedent for change and our inactions set a precedent of acceptance.

      I gladly welcome the assistance and support of everyone in CHANGING THE PERCEPTION OF OBESITY.
      Pam Davis, RN, BSN, CBN, OAC Chairperson

  • Deena Solomon
    October 15, 2012 at 12:45 am

    Obesity: $315 billion/yr, 95% failure. Is it the consumers fault? Or, is there something lacking with the methods being offered? Until the field of Obesity/Overweight (O/O) is brought out of the medical model of disease and towards a modality that assures self-management strategies, there will not be a successful way to lose weight and keep it off.

    I’ve kept off over 70 pounds since 1980, and have been helping people for over 3 decades with their weight loss goals.
    You don’t “cure O/O. What is needed, the knowledge that our relationship with food is years of paired associations of coping with food. Waking up Monday morning and deviating too far away from your learned habits will work within the initial “Goal Achievement” period. I’ve termed this “Stage One” of a diet. The scale as the “external-reinforcement will demand compliance. Eventually, in over 95% of the cases, introduce stress, all the old coping strategies will be reintroduced.

    No one can tell the consumer what’s needed for their weight loss goals. Self-management is the only component for the permanent habit formations needed for personal weight management. As long as someone is telling the consumer how to lose weight, they’re doomed for failure.

  • Maryanne Stanciu
    November 2, 2012 at 4:47 am

    As a patient affected by obesity, I can state unequivocally that weight discrimination adversely impacts my healthcare. Seldom am I hospitalized where some medical person asks the inevitable, “have you considered gastric bypass”? First, that information could be found in my chart. I had gastroplasty in 1982 and it did nothing to ameliorate my weight issues. Second, I am by no standard a potential surgical patient. I hate it that medical people who know nothing about me, my health, my weight loss attempts or my family history just assume that I eat 6,000 calories a day. Don’t they understand that no one wants to be affected by obesity, and that if there were something to be tried the disgusting fat woman they do not want to care for would RUN to that solution. I get nasty comments. I am denied needed diagnostic tests. A doctor said to me that society shouldn’t have to provide MRIs, CT scanners, operative and other tables for those people who cannot control themselves to consume 1600 calories per day. Of course, any table etc big enough for me could be used for all people and eradicate the problem. Frankly, I simply feel like throwing in the towel. We cannot legislate compassion, decency, or respect.

  • Kandie Desell
    December 14, 2012 at 1:20 am

    Maryanne S. NEVER throw in the towel ! It is YOUR story that needs told time and again to help others open their eyes to what their minds ASSUME, and it is voices like yours that will someday save someone who wasn’t strong enough yet, to write in and tell their story like you just did.. Every time you share your story, you are being a role model for nelson learning to have a voice.. I pray that your voice grows stronger and that you find what you seek in life.. Thank you for sharing. K

  • Kandie Desell
    December 14, 2012 at 1:22 am

    the above comment apparently self corrected.. it should have said for “OTHERS” not nelson..lol

  • Phyllis Davis
    March 18, 2013 at 10:23 pm

    Why is it insurance companies will cover “drug programs, quit smoking programs, and ED, rarely will it cover birth control or Bariatric surgery for those affected by obesity.. they can’t tell me that smoking programs are more successful than obesity surgery. I Will insurance ever make the exceptions for us. or are we doomed.

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