The Stigma of Being Overweight or Obese – two sides

The Stigma of Overweight and Obesity

People who struggle with being overweight or obese are very well aware of the stigma that society has towards them; that they are lazy, lacking in will-power, are undisciplined and unintelligent [Puhl et al, 2009].  It is well documented that overweight and obese people have these stereotypes applied to them in their schools, workplaces and even in relationships with friends and family [Brownell, 2005 and Puhl 2009].

The Health Risks of Being Treated Differently

Of real concern to the health and even safety of overweight and obese people is that these negative stereotypes have consistently been found in health-care settings; with many studies showing biased attitudes by doctors, nurses and other health-care professionals [Brown, 2006 and Huizinga 2009, 2010].

Studies find that doctors have less respect for their overweight patients [Huizinga 2009] and almost half of them assume that their overweight patients do not take medication as prescribed [Huizinga 2010].

All too often, overweight clients sense that their doctors view them as lazy, sloppy, non-compliant with treatment, lacking will-power and self-discipline and assume that they lie about their health-related behaviours [Puhl et al, 2009].

The Healthcare Provider – Client Relationship

Healthcare providers, be they doctors or dietitians are tasked with identifying risk factors to disease and for counseling their clients on appropriate actions they can take to address health behaviours such as smoking, exercise, diet, drug and alcohol usage.  Ideally, this should take place in a supportive and non-judgmental atmosphere, but all too often this is not the case for overweight people.

Of great importance is that studies indicate that when clients are negatively judged by their weight, they are more likely avoid future health care [Puhl et al, 2009].  This situation adds additional and significant risk to overweight or obese people who are already at increased risk of having so-called “silent diseases” (that have no symptoms) such as diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure.

How We Can Help

Nutrition To You is experienced in supporting clients to achieve and maintain a healthy body weight, within an atmosphere of compassion and acceptance.

For clients seeking to lose between 10-15% of their body weight Natalia Ciutat-Terroba,  our Nutrition to You mobile Registered Dietitian will come to you.  She is experienced in assessing your dietary needs, helping you set your own weight loss goals and will work with you to help put a realistic plan in place to achieve them  Please visit the “Our Services” tab above to learn more or click on this link

For clients with significant weight loss, Natalia will refer you to see our senior dietitian, Joy Kiddie in her office in central Coquitlam.

Patients bias toward overweight doctors

Interestingly, it’s not just health care professionals that have biases towards their overweight clients and patients.  Recent studies show that patients have biases of doctors, based on their body weight.

A recently published study [Pohl, 2013 ] indicates that patients are more likely to mistrust their doctors who are overweight or obese, were less inclined to follow their advice and were more likely to change doctors if the doctor was perceived to be overweight or obese, compared to normal weight doctors.

These weight biases about doctors remained regardless of the clients’ own body weight.

Furthermore, clients that were overweight or obese themselves and had normal weight doctors had higher trust, more compassion, more inclination to follow their advice, and less inclination to change doctors [Pohl, 2013 ].

Healthcare Practitioners own Behaviours

Studies also indicate that the degree to which doctor-patient interactions are effective may also be related to actual or perceived health-related behaviors of doctors themselves.  For example, doctors with lower resting heart rates are more likely to talk to their patients obout exerciseand non-smoking doctors are more likely to encourage their patients on quitting smoking,

Some research shows that health professionals, including dietitians who have achieved and maintained a ‘normal weight’ are more confident in their weight management practices, perceive fewer barriers to weight management for their patients, and have more positive expectations for patient health outcomes [Zhu, 2011]

Nutrition to You understands

Nutrition to You’s Registered Dietitian, Natalia Ciutat-Terroba is experienced in counseling and support clients with the weight gain that is often associated with having a baby.  She also has expertise in pre- and post-natal nutrition, including maintaining a healthy weight in pregnancy.

If you have gained weight over the years, Natalia can help support you with healthy eating and weight loss – right where you live and work.  Not only can she help you set realistic weight loss and nutrition goals, but she can support you all the way to accomplishing them.  She can help teach you to read labels, go with you on grocery store tours and if you want, can even go through your pantry with you (and your family) to see what products may be making it harder than necessary to accomplish your weight loss and maintenance goals.

Let us help

If you are looking to make some dietary changes in a supportive and non-judgmental atmosphere, please get in touch with us using the “Contact Us” form above


Brown I. Nurses’ attitudes towards adult patients who are obese: literature review. J Adv Nursing 2006; 53: 221–232.

Brownell KD. Introduction: The Social, Scientific, and Human Context of Prejudice and Discrimination Based on Weight. Weight Bias: Nature, Consequences, and Remedies. 2005, Guilford Press: New York pp 1–11

Huizinga MM, Cooper LA, Bleich SN, Clark JM, Beach MC. Physician respect for patients with obesity. J Gen Intern Med 2009; 24: 1236–1239.

Huizinga MM, Bleich SN, Beach MC, Clark JM, Cooper LA. Disparity in physician perception of patients’ adherence to medications by obesity status. Obesity 2010; 18: 1932–1937.

Puhl R, HeuerCA. The stigma of obesity: a review and update. Obesity2009; 17: 941–964.

PuhlRM , Gold JA , Luedicke J,  DePierreJA, “The effect of physicians’ body weight on patient attitudes: implications for physician selection, trust and adherence to medical advice” Int J Obesity, advance online publication 19 March 2013; doi: 10.1038/ijo.2013.33

Zhu D, Norman IJ, While AE. The relationship between health professionals’ weight status and attitudes towards weight management: a systematic review. Obesity Rev 2011; 12: e324–e337.

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