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Family 411: Medical Prejudice

CINCINNATI (Sheila Gray) -- More than a third of American adults are considered obese and just a few months ago, the American Medical Association began recognizing obesity as a disease.
    
But doctors treating these patients often can't see beyond their excess weight and even physicians admit it's an area in health care which needs to change.  A Massachusetts doctor refuses to treat patients who weigh more than 200 pounds saying they pose an injury risk to his staff.  More than dozen south Florida OB-GYN practices set weight cut-offs for the women they treat.  And a growing body of research shows many doctors who do treat overweight patients have a negative view of them.
    
The Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity surveyed 2,500 obese women, 69 percent said they've experienced bias by their doctors.  The Journal Obesity analyzed doctor visits and found physicians were 35 percent less likely to demonstrate emotional rapport with overweight patients.  And Academic Medicine says 40 percent of third year medical students have unconscious bias against overweight people.

Dr. Trace Curry has performed more than 10,000 weight loss surgeries.  Many of those procedures were on patients who've endured prejudice at the doctor's office.

Dr. Curry said, "I don't think overall as a whole we're trained very well in how to properly communicate with patients."

First year medical student Lisa Rickey is learning a different way.

She says, "There are any number of social, economic, family circumstances that play a role."

Dr. Kiesler said, "Biases we've been brought up with can play out in the exam room."

The medical colleges at George Washington University, Wake Forest University, and the University of Cincinnati are among several around the country raising future doctors' awareness about their own attitudes before they're in the exam room.  

"If you offend a patient they're not gonna come back or not going to follow your recommendation," Dr. Kiesler said.
    
Medical educators no longer focus strictly on symptoms and science.  While they know some future physicians may never fully loses their biases, the hope is that they learn techniques to keep it from affecting patient care

Medical student Lisa tells Local 12, "We can't assume an ideal world for every patient.  Having the kind of relationship with a patient who feels comfortable sharing that with you is really one of the most important things you can do in a doctor patient relationship."

And it's not just medical students tackling this sensitive issue.  The American Medical Association says thousands of health professionals, mostly physicians, have taken a free online course focusing on obesity bias offered by Yale University.

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