This Doctor’s Tweet Is A Perfect Example Of Fat-Shaming In Medicine

Photographed by Fernanda Silva.
Obesity Week, a major conference for obesity researchers, is being held this week in New Orleans. The event is supposed to be a meeting of the minds for experts in various fields to discuss the very complicated (though often oversimplified) science of weight, metabolism, and metabolic diseases, but one attendee's tweet suggests that even some doctors have a lot left to learn about our society's pervasive biases on these topics.

Jason Fung, MD
, is a doctor specializing in diabetes and weight management. Yesterday, he decided to tweet a picture of the Obesity Week keynote speakers, along with: "Obesity Week 2016 Keynote Speakers — genetics and CICO. Our obesity 'experts' lecturing physicians. We're in good hands. #OW2016" The implication being, of course, that attendees are not in good hands because the speakers appear to be overweight and are, therefore, not capable of being actual experts. First off, it's not okay to judge anyone's merit (academic or otherwise) based on their appearance. It's also extra not okay to do so in a public way, in an ostensibly professional context. But beyond all that, this ill-conceived tweet proves how far we still have to go in beating weight stigma — especially within the medical world, where overweight patients routinely receive subpar care.
Thankfully, another obesity doctor, Yoni Freedhoff, MD, was there to set things straight. "Weight-bias as a social justice issue is real having proven medical and psychological consequences," he tweeted as part of a 13-part takedown that is really worth a full read. (Start here.) No only does weight-shaming patients not help them lose weight in any way, it may actually make them less healthy: We know that experiencing any stigma — including that based on weight — can send your body's stress responses into overdrive. That, in turn, can impair your immune system and make it harder for you to fight off illness. Our society's obsession with and vilification of appearing "fat" has led to decades of incorrect and harmful assumptions fully on display within Dr. Fung's tweet, including the gross idea that all of our accomplishments can somehow be invalidated by our weight. The time for correcting these assumptions is long overdue.

More from Body

R29 Original Series