Overweight Physicians Display Bias in Obesity Care

Cheryl Clark, January 27, 2012

Doctors who are overweight or obese are less likely than physicians of normal weight to diagnose weight problems with their heavy patients or to launch discussions with them about their need to slim down, says a Johns Hopkins report that its authors say is the first of its kind.

The report "indicates that if you're a heavier physician you are biased when it comes to providing obesity care and that may be something physicians do not realize they're doing," lead author Sara Bleich, assistant professor of health policy at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, explains in an interview.

"When they see patients who look like themselves—in that overweight or obese category—they think, 'This person looks like me and I feel healthy, therefore let me focus on the more extreme'" complaints or issues they may have, such as diabetes and hypertension, rather than the underlying excess weight which may exacerbate their health problems.

Bleich's paper was published in this month's issue of the journal Obesity.

The paper is based on responses to 49 questions in a cross-sectional survey answered by 500 randomly selected primary care physicians—internists and general and family practitioners—who see patients at least 35 hours a week. They were drawn from the Epocrates Honors Panel of 145,000 doctors verified by the American Medical Association's master file, and they received a $25 voucher for their time.

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