Weight bias is harmful and dangerous. It’s time we put an end to it.
I have obesity, and I’d like to tell you a story about how damaging weight bias can be. I was in pain. My right hip and surrounding area were so sore that it was hard to walk, let alone do any other type of exercise. My primary care doctor ordered some tests (x-rays and an MRI), but they didn’t show anything abnormal. So I decided to see an orthopedist.
When I got to the appointment, the assistant asked me to put on a pair of paper shorts. That wasn’t happening – the shorts barely fit one leg, and they had no larger sizes. When the orthopedist came into the exam room, I started to explain my symptoms to him. He quickly interrupted me. “Let me cut to the chase,” he said. “You need to lose weight.” I told him that I had already lost about 70 pounds, so I was surprised that I was having this pain now. His response: “You need to lose more weight. Have you considered weight-loss surgery? I see this all the time.” He continued on, lecturing me about my weight. I was in tears by the end of the appointment. He said, “See, you’re even crying from the pain” alluding again to my weight. But I wasn’t crying because of the pain. I was crying because of the way he had treated me. He didn’t examine me. In fact, the only time he touched me was when he shook my hand on his way out of the door. He later told my primary care physician his diagnosis: “obesity pain.”
The whole experience was humiliating. It left me feeling “less than,” unworthy of a physician’s time and thoughtful consideration.
It took me several months to build up the courage to go back to another doctor. I eventually found an orthopedist who was willing to look past my weight. Turns out that my hip pain was caused by a problem with my spine, which had developed a very bad curve (60 degrees) from a condition called scoliosis. My spine looks more like a question mark than an exclamation point! Yet the first orthopedist—who saw nothing but my weight—missed it. Once I had an accurate diagnosis, my physical therapist was able to target my treatment to reduce the pain. And I was able to resume an exercise program that helps me maintain my weight loss.
I wish I could say my experience was an isolated one. But it isn’t. People with obesity suffer weight bias and discrimination everyday. Entire hashtags on Twitter, like #fatsidestories, are devoted to stories like mine. Take a look at them. Some will break your heart.
Weight bias is harmful and dangerous. It’s time we put an end to it. The Obesity Action Coalition has been challenging weight bias and stigma in all its forms for more than a decade. You can help this fight in two important ways. First, pledge to speak out against weight bias yourself. It’s everywhere in our society if you just look. Second, if you can, please make a donation to the End Weight Bias campaign. OAC will use your donation to support their many current and future weight bias initiatives:
- Producing a national television PSA combating weight bias, a longtime goal of the OAC
- Developing national outreach campaigns to raise awareness of weight bias and its damaging effects
- Expanding outreach of the new OAC Image Gallery
- Sustaining OAC’s efforts through weight bias alerts informing others on how to join the fight against stigma
Help OAC END WEIGHT BIAS so that no other patient has to face what I faced in that exam room. To make your charitable donation, CLICK HERE.
About the Author:
Patty Nece, JD, is the Counsel for Regulations and Legislation in the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of the Solicitor’s Division of Black Lung and Longshore Legal Services. The recipient of the 2015 Barbara Thompson Award for Advocacy, Ms. Nece is a tireless advocate for the OAC and has testified many times before the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, advocating for the approval of new obesity treatments.