Judgment and Disrespect

Do physicians lack empathy with their obese patients?  How does that effect the outcome for the patient?  A small study at John Hopkins noted that physician behavior was significantly different when comparing interactions with normal weight versus obese patients. The patients in the study were being treated for hypertension, not obesity.

Empathetic Relationship

An empathetic relationship is necessary for medical recommendations and behavior-change counseling to work.  It is essential in helping overweight and obese patients overcome obesity and it’s comorbidities.  Other studies have shown physicians hold negative attitudes toward obese patients. They feel judgmental and disrespectful, that often coming across during patient encounters.

Same Time, Different Message

The study noted that there was no difference in time spent in patient encounters.  The difference was in the display of concern, reassurance and recognition of feelings.  Interactions with patients of normal weight were much more positive and reassuring.  That was clear in the words and phrases chosen.

Emotional Support is Needed

The study suggests that emotional support is very important and that doctors may unintentionally sabotage their patients efforts to get healthier by their lack of empathy.



Kimberly A. Gudzune, Mary Catherine Beach, Debra L. Roter, Lisa A. Cooper. Physicians build less rapport with obese patients. Obesity, 2013.

Photo by Dr. Brook Noland, www.nolanddental.com

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