Massachusetts Medical Society: Weight Bias

Weight Bias

People who are overweight or have obesity experience discrimination in the workplace, barriers in education, stereotypes from the media, stigma in personal relationships, and bias from health care professionals. Weight bias is associated with increased risks of depression, social rejection, anxiety, and suicidality across all ages.

This page is a collaboration of the Massachusetts Medical Society Committee on Nutrition and Physical Activity and the Massachusetts Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics (MCAAP).

Know Your BiasKnow Your Bias

What’s your bias? Most people have some degree of bias, yet often are largely unaware. Where do you stand? Take a short quiz to find out.

Nutrition, Exercise and Weight Management (NEW) Attitudes Scale
Physician weight bias has been shown to undermine the patient-doctor relationship and lead to substandard care. Use this validated reliable instrument designed for medical professionals to measure your attitudes and beliefs about patients.

Estimated time = 20 minutes (15 minutes for test + 5 minutes to score)

Treat Your BiasTreat Your Bias: Tools for Physicians

What does bias in the medical setting look like? Physicians can be a common source of weight bias. (VIDEO, 17 minutes)

Promoting a Positive Office Environment
Tips to create a more positive office setting for patients with obesity.

Preventing Weight Bias: Helping Without Harming in Clinical Practice
( 8 Free Online Modules to Reduce Weight Bias)

Weight Bias: A Hidden Harm, World Obesity Federation
( 2 Free Webinar Modules, 30 minutes, Registration Required)

Language MattersLanguage Matters

Terminology could be offensive to patients, even when it’s not intended to be. Ask your patient “would it be ok to talk about weight?” and, if yes, “what words would you like me to use?”

Bad words: why language counts in our work with bariatric patients

  • This paper demonstrates the importance of language choices in communications with patients and professional colleagues, both within and outside of the field.

Putting People First in Obesity

  • By addressing the disease of obesity separately from the patient, it allows for the pursuit of the disease while maintaining respect for the patient.

Working with Pediatric Patients Working with Pediatric Patients (developed in collaboration with the Massachusetts Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics)

Obesity affects more children in the U.S. than any other chronic disease, and weight stigma can have serious consequences on pediatric quality of life:

Stigma Experienced by Children and Adolescents With Obesity

  • Clinical practice and advocacy recommendations to help providers working with children and families address weight stigma and the epidemic of obesity in patients.

American Academy of Pediatrics Institute for Healthy Childhood Weight

  • The Institute for Healthy Childhood Weight provides clinical tools and education for professionals, and resources to moves policy and research from theory into practice in healthcare, communities, and homes.

Robert Wood Johnson Foundation – Healthy Children, Healthy Weight

  • RWJF seeks to assist communities trying to reverse the trend of childhood obesity through changes in public policy, community environments and industry practices that support healthy eating, physical activity, and healthier choices for kids and families.

What Causes ObesityWhat Causes Obesity? More Than You Think…

Myths about obesity can perpetuate weight bias:

There is a mistaken belief among some people, including health care providers, that obesity is simply a result of lifestyle choices that lack proper nutrition and physical activity. In fact, the causes of excess weight are complex and multifactorial, including biological, medical, pharmacological, behavioral, and social.

Overweight and Obesity: Prevalence, Consequences, and Causes of a Growing Public Health Problem

  • This review article considers a variety of perspectives on overweight and obesity and factors causing obesity.

Bias Affects Provider Quality Measures Bias Affects Provider Quality Measures

In a changing healthcare landscape, an attention to reduce patient perceived weight bias can improve physician quality measures:

Health Care Quality: Measuring Obesity in Performance Frameworks

  • Limitations exist in the current landscape of obesity‐specific quality measures, which provides opportunities for obesity care specialists to offer valuable insights and pragmatic approaches toward quality measurement.

Additional Weight Stigma ResourcesAdditional Weight Stigma Resources

Links to more resources, supplemental literature, and related organizations:

Patients who feel judged about their weight have lower trust in their primary care providers

  • Addressing provider stigma toward patients with obesity could help build trust in patient–provider relationships and improve quality of care.

Physicians build less rapport with obese patients

  • The aim of the study is to describe the relationship between patient BMI and physician communication behaviors (biomedical, psychosocial/lifestyle, and rapport building) during typical outpatient primary care visits.

Impact of weight bias and stigma on quality of care and outcomes for patients with obesity

  • This study determines the implications of obesity stigma for healthcare providers and their patients with obesity to identify strategies to improve care for patients with obesity.

Supplemental LiteratureSupplemental Literature

Interested in learning more about weight bias? See the literature below:

Health consequences of weight stigma: implications for obesity prevention and treatment

  • This review examines the relationship between weight stigma and maladaptive eating behaviors, physical activity, weight status, and physiological stress responses.

Weight bias reduction in health professionals: a systematic review

  • Innovative and coordinated strategies to address weight bias among health professionals are urgently needed.

Weight bias: a call to action

  • Key findings include: i) weight bias is common and has adverse health consequences, ii) shaming individuals for their body weight does not motivate positive behaviour change, iii) internalized weight bias is particularly problematic, iv) public health interventions, if not carefully thought out, can perpetuate weight bias, v) weight bias is a manifestation of social inequity, and vi) action on weight bias requires an upstream, population-level approach.

Weight Bias in Healthcare

  • A guide for healthcare providers working with patients affected by obesity

Obesity Stigma and Bias

  • By addressing weight bias in the provider setting, individuals affected by obesity may be more likely to engage in a meaningful and productive discussion of weight.

Related Organizations Related Organizations

Additional resources can be found through related organizations with a focus on reducing weight bias:

The Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity

  • A non-profit research and public policy organization devoted to promoting solutions to childhood obesity, poor diet, and weight bias through research and policy.

Obesity Medicine Association (OMA)

  • The largest organization of physicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and other health care providers working every day to improve the lives of patients affected by obesity. OMA members are the clinical experts in obesity medicine. They use a comprehensive, scientific, and individualized approach when treating obesity, which helps patients achieve their health and weight goals.

The Obesity Society

  • A scientific membership organization dedicated to improving people’s lives by advancing the science-based understanding of the causes, consequences, prevention and treatment of obesity.

The Obesity Action Coalition (OAC)

  • A more than 54,000 member-strong 501(c)(3) National non-profit organization dedicated to giving a voice to the individual affected by the disease of obesity and helping individuals along their journey toward better health through education, advocacy and support.

The Strategies to Overcome and Prevent (STOP) Obesity Alliance

  • A collaboration of consumer, provider, government, labor, business, health insurers and quality-of-care organizations united to drive innovative and practical strategies that combat obesity.
Share on Facebook

Find a Physician  

Three DoctorsSearch for Massachusetts Medical Society physicians by specialty or locality.

Find a Physician »

Facebook logoX logoLinkedInYouTube logoInstagram

Copyright © 2023. Massachusetts Medical Society, 860 Winter Street, Waltham Woods Corporate Center, Waltham, MA 02451-1411

(781) 893-4610 | (781) 893-3800 | Member Information Hotline: (800) 322-2303 x7311