Do doctors lack empathy for overweight patients?

Research reveals that physicians show less empathy for overweight patients; new training programs help med students develop a better rapport.


Gudzune, an assistant professor in the School of Medicine, wanted to learn how bad these doctor-patient relationships might be, so she started reading on the topic. She says she found that “a lot of health care providers hold negative attitudes and in general have less respect for obese patients,” which got her wondering: Does that affect what happens in the doctor’s office? She obtained permission to record 208 patients’ appointments, and discovered that the 39 doctors they had visited provided the same basic information on disease, medication, and healthy living to all patients, including those who were overweight. However, the doctors were far less empathetic with the overweight group, less likely to use language such as “I can see how you feel” or “I know it’s frustrating, but you’re making progress” to reassure, show concern, or reflect emotions back to the patient. 

Kelly Brooks