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A recent study by researchers from the School of Medicine shows that while obese patients may feel discriminated against by physicians, they actually receive a higher quality of health care than normal-weight patients.

“Our original hypothesis was that the obese experience health disparities the same way we see disparities of race,” said Virginia Chang, a professor of medicine and the study’s lead author.

However, her study showed that obese patients received either equitable or better preventative outpatient care. For example, obese patients were 12 percent more likely to have their glucose levels monitored.

The impetus for the study came from a history of tension between obese patients and physicians, according to Chang.

“Physicians will openly admit that they’re dissatisfied in caring for these patients,” she said. “They will say that it’s awkward and unpleasant, or that they don’t find it professionally rewarding.”

She added that the perception aligned with what obese and overweight patients felt from physician visits. “Patients name doctors as a main source of weight-related stigmatization,” Chang said.

The study examined over 60,000 patients who received health care from the Veterans Health Administration or from Medicare. This sample represents 95 percent of patients over 65, according to Chang.

For this study, researchers evaluated several measures of medical care quality, including diabetes care, vaccinations and cancer screenings. According to Chang, these measures are particularly pertinent to the study’s age group.

Obese Medicare patients were found especially more likely to receive cholesterol and blood sugar screenings, while slightly higher levels of cancer screening were seen in Veterans Health Administration patients.

Chang said it seemed that physicians might be “more aggressive in modifying risk factors for obese patients,” because they view them as being at higher risk for cardiovascular disease, cancer or for complications if they contract pneumonia or influenza.

However, she noted possible limitations to generalizing the study’s findings, as it doesn’t measure patient satisfaction and can’t be applied to obese patients under 65.

“The stigma of obesity may be more salient for younger patients,” she said.

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