Weight Bias in a Weight Management Program?? You Bet!

| September 1, 2021

by Christopher D. Still, DO, FACN, FACP

Co-clinical Editor of Bariatric Times; Medical Director for the Center for Nutrition and Weight Management, and Director for Geisinger Obesity Research Institute at Geisinger Medical Center in Danville, Pennsylvania.

Dear Colleagues,

I know I have discussed this topic before, but after hearing an excellent lecture on weight bias at the Obesity Action Coalition’s (OAC) Your Weight Matters Convention 2021–VIRTUAL by Dr. Fatima Cody Stanford, I thought, it’s such an important topic, and we can never hear enough about it. I once again learned we ALL have some degree of weight bias/stigma—EVEN ME! Weight bias simply refers to negative stereotypes directed toward individuals affected by excess weight or obesity. This, in turn, often leads to prejudice and discrimination. With many, if not all, of our patients affected, this is an important concern that no individual in your program can afford to ignore. Thus, we have an OPPORTUNITY to educate everyone who encounters our patients, for no one is without some degree of bias.

Research demonstrates that patients with obesity frequently feel stigmatized in healthcare settings. These negative attitudes have been reported among ALL provider types—physician, nurses, dietitians, psychologists, fitness professionals, medical students, residents, and fellows. Moreover, similar attitudes have been demonstrated among healthcare office and support staff. Especially in “our business,” we want to recognize that this bias/stigma exists and provide awareness and education to mitigate it.

How can we reduce weight bias?

• Identify our own biases. One great self- survey on weight bias is a link throughProject Implicit (https://implicit.harvard. edu/implicit/selectatest.html). This free site evaluates our biases to a whole host of items, including weight. I would encourage you and all your staff to take this short assessment—it was eye-opening for me.

• Implement sensitivity training for all staff. We recently mandated sensitivity training for all employees caring for bariatric surgery patients in any way during their hospital stay.

• Institute patient-first language when referring to patients affected by obesity.

• Educate colleagues on avoiding stigmatizing or blaming words like “obese,” “morbidly obese,” or “fat.” Replace with words like “unhealthy weight” or “high BMI.”

• Educate your staff and medical colleagues that obesity is a complex disease with multiple complex etiologies and NOT a lack of discipline or willpower.

Taking a proactive approach to address and eliminate weight bias, even in your weight management or surgical practices, can only improve the great care you and your staff are delivering to patients with obesity. I encourage you to learn more about weight bias and stigma by visiting the OAC website at www.ObesityAction.org, learning more about their new weight bias campaign at www. StopWeightBias.com, and visiting the UConn Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at www.uconnruddcenter.org.

I hope you all had a great summer!

Be well,

Christopher D. Still, DO, FACN, FACP

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