Weight Stigma – A Doctor’s Problem?

weight stigma

“The UK’s All-Party Parliamentary Group for Obesity reported that 88% of people living with obesity had experienced stigmatisation as a result of their body size. In addition, 42% of people did not feel comfortable discussing their weight with the GP, which supports previous evidence that people avoid accessing healthcare due to the fear of being stigmatised by their healthcare professional.”


We’ve discussed in length in previous articles, the issue we take with the outdated ways of measuring the ‘health’ of a human being. In particular, we’ve attacked the BMI from all angles – criticising the fact that something that was introduced in the 19th century is still dictating what ‘fat’ bracket we fall into. It’s tiresome! But what about weight stigma and more importantly, weight stigma at the Doctor’s office? 

“Weight bias and weight stigma are not new terms, and although evidence of weight stigma in healthcare dates back over 30 years, it is only more recently that it has been discussed at the top table within healthcare and Government.”


Going to the Doctor is something we should be able to do with a feeling of reassurance that we’ll get help for the issue we’re visiting for. We shouldn’t be going with a feeling of dread. We shouldn’t be feeling that we’ll be judged. We most certainly shouldn’t be feeling embarrassed about our bodies or what the number on the scale says, and yet so many women have reported these feelings when visiting their Doctor.

“Every symptom, from ear infections to endocrine issues, was attributed to my size and met with a requirement of weight loss. It was a strange feeling: to be so readily disregarded, so lazily misled, and still to feel so ashamed.”


A simple Google search brings up reams of women’s stories about weight stigma at the Doctor’s. And it’s obviously a problem that needs to be addressed. Many feel as though they are being pushed aside and told that their weight is the cause for every issue – from small trivial complaints through to larger and more serious conditions. Waving something away and putting it down to weight is irresponsible and there is a duty of care to the patient to look further than the number on the scale or shape/size of the body, when it comes to investigating symptoms and looking into the cause.

“The dominant message people get from the government, health organizations, and the media is that weight and health are connected. But really, there is no strong evidence to suggest that higher weight automatically leads to poorer health.”

Jeffrey Hunger, Ph.D.

What does weight stigma lead to? It leads to a very dangerous situation where someone can be mistreated or misdiagnosed. Where those living in larger bodies may be advised to lose weight to improve their issues/symptoms, a person living in a smaller body would be referred for scans, blood work or other therapy options. Thus, making health care much less accessible to ‘fat’ bodies and potentially causing further issues when the real cause of their symptoms goes untreated.

“In one study of over 300 autopsy reports, obese patients were 1.65 times more likely than others to have significant undiagnosed medical conditions (e.g., endocarditis, ischemic bowel disease or lung carcinoma), indicating misdiagnosis or inadequate access to health care.”


‘Fat’ people have to endure weight stigma in all areas of life. From family, friends, the general public and from the media. There is a constant message that you shouldn’t ‘take up space.’ That being ‘fat’ is one of the worst and most undesirable things you could be, that by being ‘overweight’ you must be lazy, greedy and unwilling to change. There should be a safe space where people can discuss their health – with or without weight coming into it – and that should be in the healthcare sphere. 

Your Stories:

Susie: “When pregnant, I asked my midwife what amount of weight I should expect to put on over the 9 months. She told me that because of my BMI I should try to only put on 11-20 pounds in total. If my BMI had been between 18.5-24.9 I’d be able to put on 25-35 pounds. It made me feel like I had to watch my weight during my pregnancy and I won’t lie – it ruined the experience for me. I didn’t embrace my changing body because I was too worried it was ‘too’ fat.”

Taylor: “I went to the doctor with joint pains, mainly in my knee. I play in a netball team and I was pretty certain it was a repetitive strain or something. Anyway, the advice was to lose weight to take the strain off of my knee joints. No physio referral, no joint exercise tips or treatment. Just got told to shed the pounds.”

Anon: “I went to a smear test and the nurse asked me to hold my belly up. She wasn’t kind about it. I don’t ever want to go to another.”

Anon: “I had undiagnosed thyroid issues. But it took a long time to be diagnosed because I was fobbed off and told to ‘lose weight’.”




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