Roni Caryn Rabin is quickly becoming the fatosphere’s new best friend, perhaps the more wired-in version of Gina Kolata. On the heels of the fatosphere article, Rabin linked to SP/F-word side project First, Do No Harm in a Washington Post article on fat prejudice in medicine and the assumptions that doctors make about their fat patients.
Two studies in the journal Obesity Research in 2003 found that many physicians harbor negative attitudes toward fat people: A University of Pennsylvania study of 620 primary care physicians found that more than half reported viewing obese patients as “awkward,” “unattractive,” “ugly” and “noncompliant”; a Yale study reported that health professionals strongly associated being overweight with being “lazy” and “stupid.”
Such negative views, some experts charge, may be helping to drive patients away: These experts point to a 2000 study of 11,425 women, which found heavy women less likely to obtain cancer screenings such as Pap smears and mammograms even though they’re at higher risk of dying from cervical cancer and breast cancer. Newer research has produced similar findings: A 2006 study of 498 women, published in the International Journal of Obesity, found that obese women delayed cancer screenings more than other women. Negative attitudes of health-care providers and disrespectful treatment were among the reasons cited for postponing care.
This is a subject that I honestly think almost nobody has written about but us bloggers — Thorn in her incredibly affecting series of guest posts, and our contributors at First, Do No Harm. Fear of the medical establishment brought on by systematic mistreatment may be one of the biggest contributors to the correlation between fat and ill health, but it’s almost never called out — with the result that many people who experience it think that they’re the ones doing something wrong. Rabin deserves kudos for helping to expose a dirty little medical secret. She’s shown herself to be uncommonly good at maintaining equilibrium in the face of undoubtedly strong editorial pressure to pass more judgment on fat, so I hope she stays on the beat for a while.
I do wish she’d been able to insinuate a little more about the real causes of the “obesity crisis” (so, you say fat people can’t get equal medical treatment, either corrective or prophylactic? And you say that being fat is associated with health problems? Well gee, I can’t for the life of me see how those are connected). But it’s pretty radical to envision any cause for obesity-correlated health risks beyond “fat kills,” and I can’t really expect the world.
What do you think? And what’s your experience with the medical profession? (Mine’s been pretty fortunate, aside from the GYN who told me I was having pain during sex because I “sweated too much” and the doctor who sent me a note saying “EXERCISE AND LOOSE WEIGHT AND AVOID FRIED FOODS ,EAT A LOT OF VEGETABLE.” If you know anything about my habits, the second one is particularly absurd.)
Edit: If you’ve had a good experience with your doctor, please consider adding him or her to the Fat-Friendly Health Professionals list!
Edit 2: And if you’ve had a bad one, consider filing a complaint.