If you are a woman, overweight, and have to go to the doctor, prepare yourself. There is a very serious problem with our doctors in this country and that is they discriminate against obese women.
They claim that they do not.
But as awareness to this problem rises, more and more women are speaking up about the problem. And the problem is more than just shaming women about the weight they carry, but doctors are misdiagnosing because they tend to focus too much on a woman’s weight than listening to her symptoms.
One woman went to the doctor after twisting her ankle. Her doctor said it was just swollen because she was carrying extra weight. A cursory look at the x-ray confirmed his diagnosis and she went home to ice and elevate her foot. She felt ashamed and humiliated at the experience.
After a week of enduring continuing pain in her foot, she sought a second opinion and another doctor who viewed the original x-ray saw that she had indeed fractured her ankle.
If the first doctor hadn’t determined that her swollen ankle was due to her weight, he probably wouldn’t have missed the fracture in the x-ray. In all ways, we tend to see what we expect to see.
Weight stigma is getting worse in America and health care providers, surprisingly, are the worst critics. Many studies confirm this as an overarching problem among doctors, medical students, nurses, nutritionists, dietitians, and other health care professionals.
If you work in the health care industry, pay attention because you might be unconsciously judging a woman based on her weight and not on her symptomatology. A research study in 2003 surveyed nearly a thousand primary care physicians and more than half of them used derogatory terms for their overweight female patients. They used terms such as “ugly,” “unattractive,” “noncompliant,” weak-willed,” “sloppy,” and “lazy” among other terms.
Further studies have determined that women don’t even have to be obese to suffer from this characterization. Women who are only fifteen pounds over their ideal weight also suffer from that same stigma.
Men, on the other hand, can be up to seventy-five pounds overweight before doctors demonstrate the same type of judgment. That is a significant gender difference.
But the real problem is that women who suffer from the stigma of being overweight when they seek medical attention are often shamed to the point that they don’t return to their doctor for followup. They miss basic health screening exams because they find it far too painful to pay a health care professional to disrespect them by judging them based on how much they weigh.
What doctors seem to miss is that most obese women don’t want to be obese. Yet they are judged as being weak-willed and lazy when the very thin patient sitting next to them doesn’t exercise, doesn’t eat a healthy diet and consumes gallons of sugar-laden drinks.
Most women feel that no matter what they go to the doctor for, they are told that if they lose weight it would improve their symptoms. If practicing medicine were really that simple, why then do health care practitioners spend all those years going to school?
One would think that as educated as they are, physicians and other health care professionals would be able to rise about a social prejudice that is not only unfair, but consigns overweight women to substandard health care.