Weight shame deters patients

WEIGHT shame can turn people off visiting their GPs, but even changes to the language used in consults can make a difference, according to a Melbourne GP and weight management expert.

Dr Rick Kausman said overweight patients who experienced weight discrimination were more likely to avoid routine preventive care such as breast examinations and Pap smears.

Although terms such as 'fat', 'obese' and 'morbidly obese' may simply be morally neutral to doctors, they are now regarded by patients as highly stigmatising, he said.

As well as using terminology such as 'above their most healthy weight' and 'larger size', doctors can ensure their practices are supportive and welcoming to patients by having larger size gowns and blood pressure cuffs within easy reach, Dr Kausman said.

“With every 10 seconds that go by as the well-meaning GP is hunting around for a bigger blood pressure cuff, it becomes more and more uncomfortable for the patient,” he said.

Speaking to Medical Observer ahead of a training program for health professionals next month, Dr Kausman said such simple steps could make a huge difference to the empowerment of patients.

Another issue to consider was “toxic” magazines in the waiting room promoting diets and depicting culturally ideal body shapes. Larger chairs or chairs without arm rests should be provided.

“There is absolutely no evidence that shaming people helps people make behaviour change, [and] there is evidence to say it's unhelpful, it's demotivating and it actually causes weight gain if someone is above their most healthy weight,” he said.


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