Obesity Problems That May or May Not Go Away

Today’s essay actually belongs in a time capsule. The previous post suggests that the coronavirus pandemic will inevitably change the practice of medicine in ways we are not even able to foresee at this moment. While it would be futile to make predictions, it will be interesting to revisit this list of problems at some future time, and marvel over how much things have changed. So, what are some of the discouraging obstacles that obese patients face?

One, obviously, is making the decision whether or not to even go to a doctor. But why on earth would anyone hesitate? Maybe because they know that the Patient History notes entered into their medical charts will include negative vocabulary like non-compliant, overindulgent, and weak-willed.

Maybe they have heard rumors that medical personnel in the operating room will take advantage of the opportunity to make rude remarks about the zonked-out patient’s body. And why not? There are enough recorded instances of doctors saying inappropriately judgmental things to conscious patients. Why be sensitive toward someone who is unconscious?

Journalist Michael Hobbes spoke with a patient whose doctor had asked her, “How could you do this to yourself?” and one whose surgeon had pointed to the image from her MRI scan, saying, “Look at that skinny woman in there trying to get out.” Hobbes also quoted an incriminating line from obesity counselor Ginette Lenham:

A lot of my job is helping people heal from the trauma of interacting with the medical system.

Another interviewee, a teenager with stomach pain, had consulted a doctor who managed to incorporate both fat-shaming and a racially-tinged insult in the same sentence, by suggesting that her problem was eating too much fried chicken. Unfortunately, he overlooked the dangerous inflammatory condition in her internal organs.

Shaunta Grimes, in a piece subtitled “This is Why Fat People Don’t Go to the Doctor,” told of visiting a chiropractor for help with her back pain after an exhausting pregnancy. This sweetheart took one look at her size and said, “Well, of course your back hurts.” While she was on the table having her spine manipulated, he remarked, “This would be a whole lot easier if you weren’t such a whale.”

The same author also mentioned times when she had gone in to be examined “for strep throat or a sprained ankle or a fever and left with a xeroxed low-carb diet.”

Like police officers, realtors, and members of other professions, medics also invent disrespectful slang terms for the civilians they deal with. Probably everyone has heard the acronym “gomer,” which stands for Get Out of My Emergency Room. During one office visit, Grimes was less than delighted when a technician dictated, “The patient is a 33-year-old obese.” That is not a bad word in itself, as the adjective, it is meant to be — but when employed as a noun, it is inexcusably offensive.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Everything You Know About Obesity is Wrong,” huffingtonpost.com 09/19/18
Source: “That One Time my Doctor Called Me a Whale,” medium.com. 02/19/19
Image by 2il org/CC BY 2.0

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OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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