Blinded by the Fat

Far too many people have refused to interact with health care providers because they have experienced misdiagnosis by doctors who have gotten hold of the idea that when an obese patient shows up, every problem is directly traceable to the patient’s weight.

In the world of “anecdotal” health reportage, is a useful platform for people to share their horror stories. Recently, correspondent u/YukiBean recounted how…

[…] every single thing I went to a doctor for, it got blamed on my weight. Severe cramps? Weight. Feeling sleepy during the day? Weight. Numbness in my fingers, headaches, memory problems, balance problems? Weight.

She worked hard to lose 75 pounds, which took a year. On her return to her doctors’ they ordered tests appropriate to her various symptoms, and found a chronic pain-causing brain condition called chiari malformation; and narcolepsy; and so much endometriosis…

I lost both of my ovaries and a portion of my colon and lower intestines. If it had been taken seriously a year ago, I might not have lost them.

In another publication, Laura Fraser wrote:

Several studies have shown that many physicians consider the time spent with obese patients a waste, and they don’t hesitate to broadcast their biases in the examining room. Fat people are less likely to seek medical treatment because they know the stigma and lectures that await them.

Fraser used to have a sister, Jan, whose obesity caused concern. When she lost 60 pounds, the occasion seemed to call for congratulations — except that it didn’t.

Jan had not been making an effort to reduce her weight but had been eating less for a while because her appetite was suppressed by pain, and over-the-counter medications did not help. Her gynecologist did a routine exam but, as Jan described the experience, “He just saw me as a fat, complaining older woman.”

She took proactive measures, cutting down on dairy products and gluten, but that didn’t help. At her sister’s urging, she made an appointment with an internist where she was examined by a physician assistant who apparently had read a bulletin from the DEA or something, and concluded that this was a case of drug-seeking behavior, and refused to write a prescription for effective painkillers. Laura writes,

Jan arrived at the visit weak and wracked with pain. She came out of it in tears, with no answers and no relief.

But the internist, like any good mentor, reviewed his PA’s work, and consequently called Jan the next morning and told her to go to the emergency room. Turns out, she had cancer. A gynecologic oncologist removed “the largest endometrial tumor he said he’d ever seen, the size of a volleyball. It had peppered her pelvis with cancer, infiltrating her bladder and other organs.”

Chemotherapy was tried, but it was too late, and Jan only lived another six months, wearing a wig and looking sick. But, as she lost another 100 pounds, people complimented her reduced size!

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “I lost 75 pounds so doctors would stop blaming everything on my weight,”, February 2021
Source: “My sister’s cancer might have been diagnosed sooner — if doctors could have seen beyond her weight,”, 08/15/17
Image by Tony Alter/CC BY 2.0

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Profiles: Kids Struggling with Weight

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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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