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Obesity bias affects how doctors care for patients, experts say

Medical prescriptions
Posted at 10:53 AM, Aug 23, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-23 16:48:27-04

Nearly three-quarters of adults in the United States are either obese or overweight but it's a big area of bias for health care professionals.

This can cause health care disparities and as a result, impact care.

“Other issues that can come up is delay in a diagnosis of something else if it's attributed to a patient being diagnosed as obese or overweight, delay of treatment not receiving the proper treatment that they need,” said Kamilah Weems with the Association of American Medical Colleges.

The Association of American Medical Colleges is trying to prevent this with recently announced diversity, equity and inclusion standards.

“What we're really hoping to do with these competencies is have physicians really start reflecting on their own personal biases and how those biases do and can influence clinical decision making and practice,” Weems said.

The association said medical schools are doing a better job now of addressing obesity bias than 10 years ago, but they still have a ways to go.

A survey of leaders at 40 medical schools found only 10 percent felt their students were very prepared to manage obese patients.

“Beginning to think about how does my own self-reflection impact clinical decision making, then incorporating that into the curriculum,” said Weems. “Then the idea is that by the time a physician is on faculty or responsible for teaching and leading others they're role modeling what empathy looks like in terms of taking care of all patients.”

The new standards also aim to address racism and make care more culturally relevant. Another thing that could improve the treatment of obesity is new legislation.

The Treat and Reduce Obesity Act was introduced in congress nearly a decade ago. It would expand Medicare coverage to include screening and treatment from a diverse range of health care providers including doctors, nutritionists, psychologists and dietitians.

It would also include coverage under medicare Part-D for medications approved for chronic weight management.

“It's still ultimately implicitly considered a cosmetic condition under Medicare and therefore Medicare does not allow for medication coverage for people who have obesity,” said Dr. Scott Kahan with the National Center for Weight and Wellness.

Health insurance companies tend to model their coverage policies around Medicare.