Obese Patients: The Ongoing Professional and Moral Dilemma

Posted on  April 30, 2018


An ongoing debate in healthcare around the world is the treatment of people who are grossly overweight.

This is a discussion that won’t go away; a report in 2017 showed the highest ever recorded incidence of obesity in the U.S.

In fact, almost 40% of American adults and nearly 20% of adolescents are obese. It gets worse – more Americans are refusing to lose weight than ever before, particularly women.

This is not good news for the frontline of healthcare. Doctors face the never-ending cycle of treating the results of obesity while attempting to convince people to lose weight, only to have them return with another health issue related to excessive weight. Does this mean, however, that the obese are receiving a substandard level of medical care?

Medical equipment as simple as a set of scales and as crucial as an MRI scanner does not accommodate the girth of the obese. The findings of x rays and ultrasounds can be inconclusive. Surgery can be refused. Even the size of hospital beds can be an issue.

The obvious reaction any overweight person will receive at the doctor is “you need to lose weight.” The difficulty is he/she knows that all too well, and resorting to “fat shaming” does not work. The person knows the facts, and carries with him/her a weight self-stigma. The psychological issues around obesity and weight loss are complex.

Some blame the fact that positive body image is a hot topic in the media and online platforms. Many people who are medically obese simply choose to accept their body the way that it is. Yet the positive body movement does not necessarily mean that a person refuses to lose weight. It’s important to understand he/she may be attempting to fight the daily stigma and fat shaming he/she is exposed to on a daily basis.

Some doctors refuse patients who are obese. This is a highly charged area and one that brings comment on all sides of the spectrum. Those who practice this say it isn’t discriminatory because the prevalence of overweight and obese patients is higher than those who aren’t. Therefore, you can’t discriminate against a majority. Other doctors cry foul and say that there is a moral imperative that all patients are treated.

Let’s take a step back and understand that an obese person is in need of help. There are medical facilities that specialize in this area. The Obesity Medicine Association is a group of physicians, nurses and other healthcare providers working to improve the lives of patients affected by obesity, as well as helping doctors across the country deal with the issue.

In the end, helping an obese patient will require patience and understanding. It is difficult for professionals to “see past the weight.” With the obesity issue only increasing, however, this discussion needs to continue.

Where do you stand on this issue?

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