Weight bias and stigma are evident across all professionals in the health care industry, including physicians, nurses, dietitians, and mental healthcare providers, researchers reported in Nursing Clinics of North America. They said that using people-first language is critical to reducing bias and discrimination.

The authors reviewed the literature to understand the implications of weight bias and stigma across multiple environments throughout society, including health care. The reviewed studies reported that patients identified physicians as the second primary source of weight bias following family members and that weight bias may be a learned behavior from faculty and preceptors among both physicians and nurse practitioners.

They also cited studies reporting that healthcare workers may inadvertently perpetuate implicit bias with their word choices during patient conversations about weight. Evidence-based strategies to counteract that behavior include:

  • Identify your own bias with resources from the Obesity Society and Rudd Center.
  • Promote positive perceptions with patient and community education identifying obesity as a complex disease with multiple causes (e.g., genetic, biologic) and no controllable aspects.
  • Advance your education and knowledge of obesity management.
  • Use people-first language (e.g., “patient with obesity” rather than “obese patient”) when you talk to or refer to your patients.
  • Understand your patients’ history of negative experiences in health care and previous weight loss attempts.
  • Use motivational interviewing, which is associated with greater patient adherence and outcomes.
  • Demonstrate respect and compassion by using supportive terminology.

Learn how to apply the IMPLICIT mnemonic to your practice with ONS’s Implicit Bias Huddle Card.