Better training needed to curb 'fatism' within health professions

Apr 16, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- Prejudice towards obese people is rife among trainee health professionals, but can be modified, new research has found.

The study, published in the journal Obesity, says weight-based discrimination by the public has increased by 66% over the past decade with anti-fat prejudice among health professionals found to be high in western nations, and often exceeding that found within the general population.

The research, by scientists at the Universities of Manchester and Hawaii and Yale University, suggests that medical and allied health professions need to present a balanced view of the causes of, and treatment for, obesity when training young professionals in order to reduce the strong prejudice towards obese people.

The team found that the prejudice could be either increased or decreased depending on the type of obesity training pre-service, health-professional students received.

Health profession trainees from Australia were randomly assigned to one of three intensive, seven-week tutorial courses as part of their degree. One tutorial course educated students about the role of diet and physical activity as the primary cause of, and treatment for, obesity. A second tutorial course focused instead on educating students about the uncontrollable causes of obesity, such as the contribution of genes and environmental factors, like junk-food marketing and pricing. Finally, a third control group of students attended a tutorial course that addressed alcohol use in young people.

Measures of obesity prejudice were taken before the courses and then two weeks after completion. Significant reductions in obesity prejudice of 27% and 12% were found on two forms of prejudice for the course delivering material on genetic and environmental factors, while students on the course focusing on diet and showed a 27% increase in obesity prejudice.

Lead author Dr Kerry O’Brien, from The University of Manchester, UK, said: “One reason for the high levels of obesity prejudice is that people only hear that obesity is due to poor diet and lack of exercise, which implies that obese people are just lazy and gluttonous, and therefore deserve criticism. But, uncontrollable factors, such as genes, the environment and neurophysiology, play an important role.

“Weight status is, to a great extent, inherited. It’s crucial that health professionals, such as nurses, doctors, dieticians and physical educators, are aware of these other influences, as well as their own potential prejudices, and don’t just blame the individual for their weight status.

“Those tasked with providing health services to obese people may become frustrated with patients when they do not lose weight following counselling and treatment, but the research shows that weight loss is extremely difficult to maintain long term. are constantly fighting their physiology and the environment. If professionals keep this in mind it may help in not stigmatising their clients.”

Reviews of both adult and child obesity stigma research by study co-authors Dr Rebecca Puhl, from Yale University, and Dr Janet Latner, from the University of Hawaii, have shown that weight-related teasing and obesity stigma have serious psychological, physical and social consequences.

People with obesity also report receiving poorer treatment and stigma from health professionals and are less likely to seek treatment for certain conditions because of a fear of being stigmatised.

Dr Puhl said: “Unfortunately, weight stigma towards obese patients is very common in health care settings and efforts are clearly needed to reduce biased attitudes among health professionals and to improve quality of health care towards this patient population.”

Dr O’Brien added: “We were surprised by how few efforts to reduce obesity prejudice or weight stigma had been made, particularly within health professionals who are tasked with treating overweight and obese patients. Perhaps this represents a tacit acceptance that obesity prejudice is somehow okay.”

The authors suggest the results should not be interpreted as providing justification for reducing the emphasis on diet and exercise as cornerstones of obesity prevention. Instead, they say health educators should ensure that balanced information on the causes of is delivered in a convincing manner.

The study adopted a model of persuasion often used in advertising, but also provided motivation for students to process course material in depth, with related assignments contributing 10% to course grades. This may be a valuable component for other stigma-reduction strategies. By assigning a tangible value to the information presented, the curriculum reinforces the importance and credibility of that information to students.

Explore further: Oil-swishing craze: Snake oil or all-purpose remedy?

More information: O’Brien K.S., Puhl R., Latner J., Mir A., Hunter J. Reducing anti-fat prejudice in pre-service health students: A randomized trial. Obesity (advanced online access) 2010.

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Winning the war on weight

Feb 05, 2010

A Monash University-led nationwide study into the health beliefs and behaviours of obese people has found that the more severely obese a person is, the less likely they feel they can reduce their weight.

Obesity risks increase after menopause

Oct 25, 2007

Postmenopausal women are at an age when the incidence and exacerbation of the chronic health conditions associated with obesity become more prevalent. A new article published in Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic, & Neonatal Nu ...

Obesity and depression may be linked

Jun 02, 2008

A major review in Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice reveals that research indicates people who are obese may be more likely to become depressed, and people who are depressed may be more likely to become obese.

Recommended for you

Suddenly health insurance is not for sale

Apr 18, 2014

(HealthDay)— Darlene Tucker, an independent insurance broker in Scotts Hill, Tenn., says health insurers in her area aren't selling policies year-round anymore.

Study: Half of jailed NYC youths have brain injury (Update)

Apr 18, 2014

About half of all 16- to 18-year-olds coming into New York City's jails say they had a traumatic brain injury before being incarcerated, most caused by assaults, according to a new study that's the latest in a growing body ...

Autonomy and relationships among 'good life' goals

Apr 18, 2014

Young adults with Down syndrome have a strong desire to be self-sufficient by living independently and having a job, according to a study into the meaning of wellbeing among young people affected by the disorder.

User comments : 2

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Corban
not rated yet Apr 16, 2010
1. Professionals are more prejudiced
2. They have more clinical data than us
3. It's a good idea to defer to those who know better than you.

If they have reason to be more prejudiced, based off their clinical experience, should the general populace not adapt its numbers to match reality?
ironjustice
not rated yet Apr 17, 2010
Trying to deride professionals for "prejudice" as opposed to comending them for their common sense?
Being obese is a choice.
Some think gluttony should be looked upon
"favorably" whereas some find gluttony repugnant.
The medical profession is NOW trying to convince us those who practice coprophagia are not mentally ill.
Gluttony is bad.
Coprophagia is bad.
Both are **mental health problems** to be treated and NOT .. "acceptible" .. period.
Imho ..

More news stories

Filipino tests negative for Middle East virus

A Filipino nurse who tested positive for the Middle East virus has been found free of infection in a subsequent examination after he returned home, Philippine health officials said Saturday.

Study says we're over the hill at 24

(Medical Xpress)—It's a hard pill to swallow, but if you're over 24 years of age you've already reached your peak in terms of your cognitive motor performance, according to a new Simon Fraser University study.

NASA's space station Robonaut finally getting legs

Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs. For three years, Robonaut has had to manage from the waist up. This new pair of legs means the experimental robot—now stuck ...

Ex-Apple chief plans mobile phone for India

Former Apple chief executive John Sculley, whose marketing skills helped bring the personal computer to desktops worldwide, says he plans to launch a mobile phone in India to exploit its still largely untapped ...

Egypt archaeologists find ancient writer's tomb

Egypt's minister of antiquities says a team of Spanish archaeologists has discovered two tombs in the southern part of the country, one of them belonging to a writer and containing a trove of artifacts including reed pens ...

Airbnb rental site raises $450 mn

Online lodging listings website Airbnb inked a $450 million funding deal with investors led by TPG, a source close to the matter said Friday.