Weight Bias among Health Professionals Specializing in Obesity


Department of Psychology, Yale University, PO Box 208205, New Haven, CT 06520-8205. E-mail: Marlene.Schwartz@yale.edu


Purpose: To determine the level of anti-fat bias in health professionals specializing in obesity and identify personal characteristics that correlate with both implicit and explicit bias.

Research Methods and Procedures: The Implicit Associations Test (IAT) and a self-report questionnaire assessing explicit attitudes, personal experiences with obesity, and demographic characteristics was administered to clinicians and researchers attending the opening session of an international obesity conference (N = 389). The IAT was used to assess overall implicit weight bias (associating “obese people” and “thin people” with “good” vs. “bad”) and three ranges of stereotypes: lazy-motivated, smart-stupid, and valuable-worthless. The questionnaire assessed explicit bias on the same dimensions, along with personal and professional experiences with obesity.

Results: Health professionals exhibited a significant pro-thin, anti-fat implicit bias on the IAT. In addition, the subjects significantly endorsed the implicit stereotypes of lazy, stupid, and worthless using the IAT. Level of bias was associated with several personal characteristics. Characteristics significantly predictive of lower levels of implicit anti-fat bias include being male, older, having a positive emotional outlook on life, weighing more, having friends who are obese, and indicating an understanding of the experience of obesity.

Discussion: Even professionals whose careers emphasize research or the clinical management of obesity show very strong weight bias, indicating pervasive and powerful stigma. Understanding the extent of anti-fat bias and the personal characteristics associated with it will aid in developing intervention strategies to ameliorate these damaging attitudes.