We have all been told that losing weight comes down to diet and exercise. However, recent studies show that effective treatment is more complex and our attitudes about obesity could be creating barriers to treating the disease. The stigma surrounding obesity is actually preventing patients from both seeking out and receiving proper care from healthcare professionals. The good news is that we may be able to provide improve obesity management programs simply by changing perceptions about obesity.
Studies have looked at the attitudes and behaviors of three different groups of people to better understand how we perceive and treat obesity:
People with Obesity
While 65% of people with obesity believe that it is a disease, a full 82% believe that losing weight is totally their responsibility. This attitude prevents people from taking advantage of employer wellness programs, speaking with healthcare providers about their weight and making follow-up appointments with the physicians after an obesity diagnosis.
Perhaps even more dangerous, is the fact that people with obesity don’t recognize that their disease will lead to other health problems down the road. The majority of people understand that even a 10% loss in weight would be beneficial, but at the same time they don’t seem to fully grasp that ignoring this disease will affect their health and shorten their lifespan.
A full 80% of healthcare professionals believe that obesity is a complex disease, however, they are reluctant to discuss this issue with patients. The top reasons for not broaching the subject include: lack of time during the appointment, more important issues to address and a belief that the patient isn’t motivated to lose weight.
Over 50% of doctors consider obesity at least as serious as other chronic health conditions and the vast majority are comfortable talking with patients about weight management, yet these conversations still aren’t happening.
While 64% of employers reported recognizing obesity as a disease, almost half didn’t think they shouldered any of the responsibility for helping treat the disease. Employers also had highly inflated perceptions of how helpful and effective their wellness programs were for employees.
Ultimately, people with obesity want to treat their disease, but they think that the responsibility is theirs alone. Meanwhile, healthcare providers and employers are under the assumption that people with obesity don’t actually want to lose weight and they are too embarrassed to seek out help. These attitudes help perpetuate the stigmas around obesity and prevent patients from getting the support they need.
How to Change Attitudes
Education may be the best solution to changing attitudes about obesity so that people with obesity, healthcare providers and even employers can have conversations and take action before additional health problems arise. Healthcare professionals need to prioritize obesity treatment and encourage patients to attend follow-up appointments after a diagnosis. Surveys show that patients are motivated to lose weight and don’t find medical conversations about their weight embarrassing, so it is a matter of starting a dialogue, providing information and resources and offering continuing support.