Dr Janine V. Kyrillos Says Physicians' Lack of Knowledge Causes Obesity Bias

Physicians develop biases against obese patients due to inadequate education on obesity during medical school, explained Janine V. Kyrillos, MD, FACP, of Thomas Jefferson University Hospitals and the Sidney Kimmel Medical College. She hypothesized that physicians become frustrated with the lack of solutions they have to offer and then shift the blame onto the patients.

Physicians develop biases against obese patients due to inadequate education on obesity during medical school, explained Janine V. Kyrillos, MD, FACP, of Thomas Jefferson University Hospitals and the Sidney Kimmel Medical College. She hypothesized that physicians become frustrated with the lack of solutions they have to offer and then shift the blame onto the patients.

Physicians are one of the highest sources of bias when it comes to obesity. Why do you think that is?

Because most physicians are not knowledgeable. We don’t learn enough about obesity in medical school—even today, it’s not a big part of the curriculum. And physicians get frustrated because we don’t really have a lot of great options to offer the patient, so it’s very difficult. We want the patients to lose weight, we want to help them, we want them to be healthier, but we don’t really have a whole lot to offer so we sort of switch the blame to them and say, "well, you’ve gotta figure this out," and they can’t either.

With such a large percentage of US citizens overweight or obese today, is this changing the way the disease is taught to physicians in medical school?

I think really we need to teach the teachers a lot, too. There’s so much new data and education about obesity that transferring that to the educators and the medical students is difficult. And that bias pervades also, even the faculty and the teachers don’t really understand it unless they’re really up to date on things.

In my own institution I really pushed to implement an obesity bias lecture during the racism and bias week that the medical students undergo. And it didn’t stick, they didn’t do it the next year. I’m hoping more schools will do those kinds of things and show how it really affects patients.