'Fat-shaming' by doctors is 'physically harmful,' prof says

A psychology professor gave a lecture at an academic conference Thursday claiming that “medical fat shaming” at the doctor’s office is “mentally and physically harmful.”

“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,” Connecticut College professor Joan Chrisler told attendees at the 125th annual convention of the American Psychological Association.

Asserting that doctors “repeatedly advise weight loss for fat patients while recommending CAT scans, blood work, or physical therapy for other, average weight patients,” she argued that “recommending different treatments for patients with the same condition based on their weight is unethical and a form of malpractice.”

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During her presentation, titled “Weapons of Mass Distraction—Confronting Sizeism,” Chrisler said there are many ways that doctors commonly microaggress against fat patients, not just in their approach to medical treatment, but even through interpersonal interactions.

“Implicit attitudes might be experienced by patients as microaggressions—for example, a provider’s apparent reluctance to touch a fat patient, or a headshake, wince, or ‘tsk’ while noting the patient’s weight in the chart,” she said, noting that “microaggressions are stressful over time and can contribute to the felt experience of stigmatization.”

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Because of their apparent tendency toward fat-shaming, doctors “could jump to conclusions” that a patient’s condition is obesity-related, and therefore “fail to run appropriate tests, which results in misdiagnosis.”

In addition to “sizeism,” she stated that patients with intersectional identities (e.g., those who also experience sexism, ageism, racism, classism, or transphobia) experience an even “greater cumulative burden” at the doctor’s office, adding that “the stress that such unfairness causes can damage people’s health.”

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Referencing a study of more than 300 autopsy reports, Chrisler said the results showed that obese patients were 1.65 times more likely than other patients to have significant undiagnosed medical conditions, such as endocarditis and lung carcinoma, which she presented as evidence of either “misdiagnosis or inadequate access to health care.”

Reached for comment by Campus Reform, Chrisler explained that she has a longstanding interest in body-image, especially women’s body image, and in fact just recently wrote a book on the topic that is scheduled for release later this month.

“Fat shaming is a serious concern; girls have committed suicide after being fat shamed in social media,” she said. “Fat shaming from health care providers can also have serious physical and mental health consequences.”

Chrisler acknowledged that there is no way to definitively prove causation for her claim, pointing out that “it would be unethical to do such an experiment.”

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She also provided Campus Reform with a copy of her most recent academic article, “Sizeism is a Health Hazard,” which was published in the journal Fat Studies in August 2016 and served as the basis for her presentation at the APA conference.

In the article, Chrisler argues that obesity isn’t the sole source of health concerns for fat people, and that “health habits, body satisfaction, and self-acceptance” are much more important indicators of a person’s overall health.

“The Goldilocks Rule has no place in the healthcare system,” Chrisler concludes. “It is not possible to determine a person’s health status on the basis of their weight.”

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @Toni_Airaksinen