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Monday, November 10, 2014

Changing View: Obesity bias wanes in favor of new understanding

New research suggests that the American public and healthcare professionals are less likely to blame obesity on bad personal choices in favor of understanding obesity as a complex medical condition and community problem. These findings, presented last week at the Obesity Society Annual Meeting in Boston, suggest the treatment and management of obesity is now seen as a disease that warrants serious, evidence-based medical care.
"Obesity is one of the most complex, chronic medical conditions and successful treatment often requires the support and care of healthcare professionals. These trends are encouraging because they suggest a shift away from simplistic, biased views that focus on personal blame. The more that people recognize shared risks for obesity, the more likely they are to support evidence-based approaches to reducing obesity's impact."  ~Rebecca Puhl, PhD, Deputy Director at Yale University's Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity speaking on behalf of The Obesity Society.

Credit: Image courtesy of Obesity Society
Findings were shared last week in a report from Obesity Society. "Despite the high prevalence of obesity in the U.S. and worldwide, weight bias and stigma continue to complicate clinical and policy approaches to obesity treatment," said study author Ted Kyle, RPh, MBA, of ConscienHealth in Pittsburgh, PA. "The goal of our study was to measure any shifts that might affect or result from public policy changes."

Kyle and his colleagues Diana Thomas, PhD, professor at Montclair State University, and Adam Tsai, MD, an obesity medicine expert at Kaiser Permanente of Colorado, conducted an online survey of a representative sample of 54,111 U.S. adults (POP) and 5,024 healthcare professionals (HCP), who were asked whether they viewed obesity primarily as a personal problem of bad choices, a community problem of bad food and inactivity, or a medical problem. Responses were collected in five different time periods: Feb 2013, Mar 2013, Aug 2013, and May 2014. The HCP sample included registered nurses, physicians, dietitians and nutritionists, and healthcare policy/management professionals. Researchers analyzed how demographic variables (age, gender, income, region, urban density) were associated with the changing views of the public and HCPs.

"Our results show a significant shift in perceptions of obesity in 2014, with the percent of Americans seeing obesity as a community problem increasing as much as 13% and the percent of healthcare professionals increasing 18%," said Kyle. "Surprisingly, the healthcare professionals who view obesity primarily as a medical problem actually decreased between 2013 and 2014. This trend bears watching."

Have you noticed a greater understanding of obesity and less bias in your daily interactions? Have you seen improved effort and understanding from your medical providers?

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