Unfortunately, this is a very common practice. People are often told to lose weight without first being assessed for a history, or presence, of an eating disorder.
Countless studies have found a high prevalence of weight stigma within the healthcare system. In addition to reporting high rates of weight stigma, these studies have highlighted the negative impacts these preconceptions have on the health outcomes of individuals.
More than 6% of Canadian adults have experienced weight discrimination in a healthcare setting.
Effects of Weight Stigma on Health
Studies have shown that, in the long run, weight stigma has a negative impact on a person’s health. In fact, people with higher body weights receive inferior care than people with lower body weights, which ultimately leads to worse health outcomes.
A common example of weight stigma that people experience is their doctor’s disregard for their health concerns. In many situations, doctors choose to focus on a person’s weight, rather than the reason for the appointment, such as chronic back pain or insomnia. This can leave anyone feeling unsupported, and lead to avoidance of doctors.
In addition to patients’ concerns being disregarded, adults who experience weight discrimination are more likely to continue gaining weight than adults that do not.
Impact of Weight Stigma on Healthcare Professionals’ Health
Although we often think of the impacts of weight stigma on patient outcomes, it doesn’t only impact patients. Weight stigma also has a big impact on healthcare professionals as well. A study found that medical students with higher body weights have increased rates of alcohol and recreational substance use to cope with internalised stigma.
Both weight stigma and discrimination from healthcare professionals can also contribute to someone’s weight gain and increase their risk of obesity. Multiple studies have found that weight discrimination
Weight Stigma and Eating Disorders
Without screening for an eating disorder before making recommendations, doctors and other healthcare professionals can negatively impact a person’s health.
Now for many people being told to lose weight is disheartening and frustrating. It can trigger negative self-talk and body perception and even contribute to future weight gain. However, for people with an eating disorder, or those with a history of an eating disorder, this can be even more problematic.
Many people with an eating disorder already experience a negative body image and a poor relationship with food. Being told that they must lose weight to address their health concerns, can encourage disordered eating patterns, and fuel eating disorders.
Weight Inclusive Healthcare
Working with a weight-inclusive healthcare team can help you achieve your goals while preventing relapse into a disordered eating pattern. Book a FREE discovery call with a registered dietitian to learn more about the impact of your eating habits on your health, and the changes you can make.
Gupta, N., Bombak, A., Foroughi, I., & Riediger, N. (2020). Discrimination in the health care system among higher-weight adults: Evidence from a Canadian national cross-sectional survey. Health Promotion and Chronic Disease Prevention in Canada, 40(11–12), 329–335. https://doi.org/10.24095/HPCDP.40.11/12.01
Puhl, R. M., Himmelstein, M. S., & Pearl, R. L. (2020). Weight Stigma as a Psychosocial Contributor to Obesity. https://doi.org/10.1037/amp0000538
Tomiyama, A. J., Carr, D., Granberg, E. M., Major, B., Robinson, E., Sutin, A. R., & Brewis, A. (2018). How and why weight stigma drives the obesity ‘epidemic’ and harms health. BMC Medicine, 16(123). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12916-018-1116-5