Just a little respect? Not for obese patients

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A new study seems to confirm what many obese people have long suspected…that doctors think less of their heaviest patients. For the study, published in the November issue of the Journal of General Internal Medicine, researchers at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland, collected data from 238 obese patients (those with a body mass index of 30 or greater) and 40 doctors at 14 urban community medical practices in Baltimore. A primary piece of the study’s puzzle was questionnaires filled out by physicians after meeting with each patient. Specifically, the doctors ranked their level of respect for the patient on a 5-point scale, with 1 being the lowest and 5 being the highest. Afterward, when scientists crunched the numbers they found that (on average) the higher a patient’s BMI, the lower the level of the physician’s respect. The study authors postulate that a general lack of physician respect plays a role in obese patients steering clear of  the health-care system and, therefore, missing out on preventive care and health education opportunities. Ultimately, starting in medical school, doctors need to be educated that obesity bias and discrimination exist, says Mary Margaret Huizinga, MD, the study’s lead author and an internist at Johns Hopkins. “Awareness of their own biases can help them alter their behavior.”