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Study: Nearly 40 Percent Of Medical Students Have Bias Against Obese People

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File photo of a stethoscope on top of a keyboard.  (Credit: Thinkstock)

File photo of a stethoscope on top of a keyboard. (Credit: Thinkstock)

CBS Charlotte (con't)

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WINSTON-SALEM, NC (CBS Charlotte) – According to a new study, almost 40 percent of medical students have an unconscious bias against obese people.

The researchers conducted the study out of Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center. They noted the anti-fat stigma is a significant barrier to treat obesity. The researchers concluded that treating medical students to recognize this bias is necessary to improve the care for the millions of Americans that are overweight or obese.

“Bias can affect clinical care and the doctor-patient relationship, and even a patient’s willingness or desire to go see their physician, so it is crucial that we try to deal with any bias during medical school, Dr. David Miller, lead author on the study and associate professor of internal medicine at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center said in a press release obtained by US News.

The study took over three years to complete and included over 300 third-year medical students. The students were from different regions of this country as well as 12 other countries; however they each attended a medical school in the southeastern region of the United States between 2008 and 2011.

The researchers were able to measure the participants’ unconscious preferences for fat or thin people using a computer program called Weight Implicit Association Test. The students completed a survey to determine if they had any weight bias.

The study determined that 39 percent of the medical students had a moderate to strong unconscious anti-fat bias. Seventeen percent had a moderate to strong anti-thin bias.

Twenty-five percent of the students were aware of their biases.

“Because anti-fat stigma is so prevalent and a significant barrier to the treatment of obesity, teaching medical students to recognize and mitigate this bias is crucial to improving the care for the two-thirds of American adults who are now overweight or obese, Miller added to the newspaper.

The study was published in the Journal of Academic Medicine.

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