It turns out that body shaming isn’t just inappropriate, unnecessary, and potentially damaging to our self-esteem and self-worth. A new study suggests that derogatory comments about weight and size can impact the physical and mental health of those who experience them, especially if a healthcare professional is the one doing the "shaming."
While a higher BMI can, of course, be linked to health problems, if a patient feels they are likely to be treated in a judgmental, patronizing, or antagonistic way thanks to their weight, they might postpone or avoid seeking advice from their doctor, according to a review of research presented at the 125th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association (as noted by Refinery29). This, in turn, can lead to delayed diagnosis and treatment.
"Disrespectful treatment and medical fat shaming, in an attempt to motivate people to change their behavior, is stressful and can cause patients to delay healthcare seeking or avoid interacting with providers," explained Joan Chrisler, a psychology professor at Connecticut College.
See Roseanne Barr's amazing weight loss journey.
Some doctors might recommend different treatments to those who are overweight than they typically would to those with "healthy" weights, potentially postponing important tests with the seemingly catch-all solution of "losing a bit of weight," suggested the symposium titled "Weapons of Mass Distraction – Confronting Sizeism."
As Dr. Chrisler put it, "Recommending different treatments for patients with the same condition based on their weight is unethical and a form of malpractice. 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."
Bias can also be experienced in the form of what Chrisler describes as microaggressions: "A provider’s apparent reluctance to touch a fat patient, or a head shake, wince, or ‘tsk’ while noting the patient’s weight."
The study found that weight-based discrimination might be worse when it intersects with the likes of racism, ageism, sexism, transphobia, and class-based prejudices.
A potential solution? The authors propose that medical professionals need to be better trained in order to confront this often unconscious prejudice and learn how to speak to patients in a way that is more empowering and less hurtful.
This post was written by Katie Rosseinsky. For more, check out our sister site Grazia.