No Empathy for the Fat in Healthcare

I saw this Scientific American article in my Google Reader this morning, and it struck me right away that this — THIS — is what’s missing from the average fat person’s healthcare, compared to the average thinner person.

Empathy.

Missing But Crucial to Successful Healthcare: Empathy

Sure, empathy is in short supply in many doctor’s offices and bigger institutions, with the growing shortage of healthcare professionals in proportion to those who seek care. But many of the horror stories from First, Do No Harm are about a very particular lack of empathy for fat people from those same professionals, whether they be doctors, nurses, surgeons, nutritionists, and so on down the line.

Underlying the lack of empathy is the appalling prevalence of bias against fat people in the medical community, which often starts in medical school.

Many medical researchers also seem to lack empathy for fat people, as they twist themselves into statistical knots trying to make their conclusions fit the anti-obesity paradigm, making recommendations that are tantamount to the eradication of a whole population of people or children without so much as thinking about fat people as individual humans. They never blink an eye at talking about ‘eradicating obesity.’ But there is no such thing as ‘obesity,’ there are only obese people.

Perhaps if doctors had a little empathy, they wouldn’t start in on the weight discussion when their patient just needs antibiotics for a sinus infection. Perhaps if they had a little empathy, they wouldn’t recommend a course of treatment with such a huge failure rate. Perhaps if they had a little empathy, they would help their patient get that kidney transplant/knee replacement/IVF without demanding they first physically uncover the thin person within as some kind of marker of worthiness; that is, they would help their patient find an anaesthesiologist who can handle a person of their size.  Perhaps if they had a little empathy, they’d think about how to make their patient feel better rather than using Ailment X as yet another ‘teachable moment’ about their patient’s weight.

Empathy is crucial to good health care, as mentioned by the article in Scientific American. And for fat people it is, sadly, in particularly short supply.

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2 comments on “No Empathy for the Fat in Healthcare

  1. vesta44 says:

    The really sad thing about that lack of empathy? Even doctors/nurses/nurse practitioners who are fat themselves have no empathy for their fat patients. The NP who told me I had to lose weight in order to eventually be able to have my knees replaced? Was almost as fat as I was. Didn’t stop her from telling me that it was calories in/out, didn’t stop her from prescribing phen-fen, didn’t stop her from recommending WLS for me. And it didn’t stop her from calling me non-compliant when all of my efforts failed to make me as thin as she thought I could be. Yet I didn’t see her risking her life and health with those diets, drugs, and WLS in order to lose weight and get thin. Lack of empathy, yes, and hypocrisy to the max.

  2. Someone just sent me the most hateful person’s Twitter account, making the most horrible statements about fat people. Who’s account was it? A prominent OB-GYN. Yet they saw nothing wrong with the hate they were spewing.

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