Are Doctors Biased Against Obese People?

Doctor looking upset.
Are doctors biased against obese people?

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This question originally appeared on Quora.

Answer by Sonnet Fitzgerald:

Oh, Lord. Let me preface this by saying I have had some wonderful and amazing physicians who have treated me with dignity and kindness and have truly looked out for my health. They are in the majority and I am always thankful to them. Unfortunately—and I’m not even that old so this is all experienced in normal doctor visits within the last 15 years or so—I have encountered:

  • Doctors who would not touch me
  • Doctors who refused to treat me
  • One doctor who saw me after a car accident for a shoulder and neck injury and blamed my obesity for it
  • Several doctors who refused to help me with fertility treatment, despite my being in excellent health. One told me, “Your blood pressure is far too high to carry a pregnancy!” (It was measured at 110/60 that day, normal for me.) Another told me flatly, “Fat people have deformed babies.” Another one, when I came in to ask for Clomid to treat my polycistic ovary symptom, just handed me a brochure for weight-loss surgery instead.
  • When I was pregnant, one OB called me disgusting and told me to have an abortion. I remember him waving at the table and saying “I’ll take care of that right now!” It was terrifying.
  • During my first pregnancy, I lost an incredible amount of weight despite being put on a 3,000-calories-per-day diet. By my sixth month when I was still losing weight, I brought up my concerns at an appointment and was told, “Well, this is obviously the first time in your life that people like you have to be responsible and stop eating McDonalds all day long. It’s no wonder.”
  • I had perfect blood sugar levels during my pregnancy, but my weight had me declared high-risk, so as part of that I saw a nutritionist and diabetes educator. He told me I was killing my baby. After one ultrasound when she was measuring large I pointed out that my husband was 6-foot-4 so that made sense. He told me he doubted my husband was the father because fat girls are sluts.
  • Once when transferring clinics, I requested a copy of my files. The clinic fought me tooth and nail on that, but in the end someone was new and I got a copy. When I took a look at them on the way over to my new clinic, I saw that the pages were covered in side notes and jokes about my weight, calling me names and making inappropriate comments about my size.
  • When going through a medical exam for immigration purposes a doctor checking my joints didn’t believe I was active and walked (at that point, close to 10 miles a day just to get around town, up and down hills) and had no joint damage. She forced my knees back and forth, and when they didn’t stick or pop, forced me to do squats and rammed my knees back and forth again until they hurt. She was angry, she kept saying it was impossible that I could have healthy knees.
  • When I tell doctors information like I am a vegetarian, or I ski, or do yoga, they give me “this look”: It is trying to hold a straight face but with a slightly raised eyebrow. I know they don’t believe me, but whatever. I get that look a lot.
  • The worst though is when it affects my children. When I am the one who takes the girls in to pediatrician appointments, despite the kids being healthy weights (and eating healthy diets, and active in sports) the pediatrician or NP will often lecture my daughters about their weight or try to put them on diets. This is so damaging to them at their age (pre-teens) and besides, it is unnecessary. I am the one who is obese, and it is for a variety of endocrine reasons. My daughters are not. It makes me so angry when doctors try to put my health issues on them, because they see a fat mom and just assume we all sit around in front of the TV all day long scarfing super-sized fries and Cokes or something.

Like I say, this is not every time, and I have met some wonderful doctors too. But this is just of the top of my head. There are many other instances if I had time to sit and think of them. Some doctors definitely dislike working with obese clients, I think because they are taught that obesity correlates so strongly with poor health. It means us fat people get poor care by some doctors, unfortunately.

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