Health professionals surveyed at an obesity conference in Quebec last year learned something surprising about themselves. The survey revealed a significant bias against overweight people among almost 400 physicians, researchers, pharmacologists and psychologists who treat and study obesity.
“The stigma of obesity is so strong that even those most knowledgeable about the condition infer that obese people have blameworthy behavioral characteristics that contribute to their problem, i.e., being lazy,” said Marlene B. Schwartz, Ph.D. ’96, a research scientist in the Department of Psychology and lead researcher of the study published in September in Obesity Research. “Furthermore, these biases extend to core characteristics of intelligence and personal worth.”
For the study 389 clinicians and researchers took the Implicit Association Test and filled out a questionnaire that assessed attitudes, personal experiences with obesity and demographic characteristics. The results were not all dispiriting, however. Those who work directly with obese patients showed less bias than those who do not.