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Weighty issue

June 11, 2013

Medical director discusses affect of overweight stereotypes

Assistant Managing Editor
Negative stereotypes affect more than people who are overweight, they also affect the people treating them, a top Auglaize County medical official says.
Auglaize County Medical Director Dr. Juan Torres said according to research by Raquel Pau published in the International Journal of Obesity, patients being treated by an overweight or obese physician tend to follow stereotypes when it comes to them, too.
Torres said — no matter who one is stereotyping — obesity is more than calories in and calories out, even though they encourage everyone to maintain a healthy weight.
“A lot of things can impact whether a person is obese or not,” Torres said. “Obesity is a multifactorial thing.”
Torres said perception is believed to be reality and physicians preaching one thing but not doing it.
He said studies have shown that patients express more mistrust of physicians who are obese or overweight, which makes patients less inclined to follow their physician’s advice and more likely to change physicians.
“The weight bias was present in patients no matter what they weighed,” Torres said, explaining it was strong in patients who felt there was a stigma or social stereotype to being overweight.
He said the perception is that physicians tell patients what they shouldn’t do, but they were not always adhering to their own advice, whether it be following healthy diet and exercise habits or not smoking.
Torres said what the patients are seeing contradicts what their physicians are advising.
“It’s a principle of marketing — never sell exercise equipment with a person who doesn’t look good,” Torres said.
“We are seen as health authorities in the community, but what are we projecting?” Torres said as he spoke recently to members of the Auglaize County Health Board.
Torres said he wants to do more than change the overweight perception, whether it applies to physicians or patients.
Health Commissioner Charlotte Parsons said in doing a character development study once on 4-year-olds, even at that age the toddlers had the most negative feelings toward those who were overweight compared to other conditions, such as amputees and those with face deformities.
“It’s the culture,” Torres said. “We need to educate the community.
“Yes, excess calories can make you overweight, but some medications make you obese,” he said. “There are reasons someone can’t move around much. A lot of things determine it.”
Health Board member Linda Kitzmiller said physiological and biological reasons also can play a factor in a person’s weight.
Torres said adding to increased weights among the population are the use of more high fructose simple sugars, and affordability and lack of access to healthier food options.
“People are changing and making improvements, but it is going to have to be a big change from the Department of Agriculture down to public policy and how we live,” Torres said.

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