Lack of Training, Bias Keep Doctors From Helping Obese Patients

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Obesity is arguably the worst healthcare crisis this country has ever faced. So you’d think doctors would be at the forefront, helping their patients lose weight with informed, compassionate advice, right?

Wrong.

Researchers at Wake Forest University have found that medical schools simply do not provide obesity education to their students, and only a small minority of major medical centers even provide adequate, effective training to students in caring for obese patients.

“Medical students are surrounded by the same environment that everyone is in this country, a culture of idealized images of physical attractiveness in which thin is good and fat is bad,” said Mara Vitolins, professor of public health sciences at Wake Forest Baptist, in a statement.

“We just aren’t doing a good enough job of teaching our students evidence-based methods of intervention and care for our obese patients,” Vitolins said.

Meanwhile, the obesity epidemic in the United States is ruining lives, bankrupting the healthcare system, and getting worse; according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 31% of adults are obese and 15% of children and teenagers age 6-19 are overweight, and those percentages are booming.

Doctors seem to be standing along the sidelines or, in some cases, making matters worse for their obese and overweight patients. Many studies have documented physician bias against obese patients, as pervasive among MDs as it is among the general public.

Those who seek to help their patients seem stymied. One study noted that physicians report feeling inadequately trained to help patients lose weight, yet seldom refer such patients to other professionals who might be able to help.

“Our study shows clear gaps in medical education regarding obesity,” Vitolins said.

“Providing medical students with skills to address obesity is necessary to impact the national epidemic of obesity to decrease mortality and morbidity from chronic diseases related to excess weight.

“Our findings also highlight the need for medical school curricula to mitigate negative attitudes toward these patients, attitudes that may affect the care delivered.”

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