What’s Up With Cacomorphobia?

The thing about phobias is, they are not all irrational. A tiny little spider, for instance, can kill a human being. Caution and avoidance, when applied to spiders, make a certain amount of sense. Likewise, iatrophobia, or the fear of doctors, is totally rational when validated by the life experiences of people who have been dissed (disrespected, dismissed, disregarded,) and missed (mischaracterized, misdiagnosed, and mistreated.)

But how rational is cacomorphobia, which in the original Greek means “fear of ugly shape”? In practical terms, it translates to an aversion to fat or obese people. While that mental condition is unpleasant enough in civilians, the place where it is really a problem is in the head of a medical professional. Cacomorphobia turns out to be a direct cause of iatrophobia, and the source of anecdotes about why many obese people avoid doctors.

Blinded by the fat

A phobia is an anxiety disorder; an extreme, irrational, illogical, persistent, excessive, overpowering, inexplicable, unreasonable, debilitating, exaggerated, and/or unrealistic fear or aversion. A phobia, like any other perceived threat, can cause a fight-or-flight reaction. It is easy to see how patients develop iatrophobia.

When someone seeks health care and is greeted with disrespect and disbelief, it is natural to feel like returning the perceived hostility, or running away, or both. Especially when the cause of the anxiety is not actually irrational or unreasonable or unrealistic. Obese people really have suffered actual consequences because some medical personnel has bad attitudes.

Doctors who just say no

What happens when a patient who desperately needs help manages to set aside their trepidation and seek that help? Believe it or not, it might be the doctor who says no! Some have outrightly banned obese patients. Michael Hobbes reported that, just 10 years ago…

[…] the Sun-Sentinel polled OB-GYNs in South Florida and discovered that 14 percent had barred all new patients weighing more than 200 pounds.

This is especially disturbing because, in the obstetrics/gynecology specialty, such refusal is a disservice to not one but two patients — the expectant mother and her unborn child. Previously, Childhood Obesity News discussed a Reuters article about physicians with negative attitudes toward obese patients, and some of the stereotypical mental images they hold, and the specific complaints voiced by patients.

The writer known as Your Fat Friend speaks of…

[…] an experience that is largely unique for very fat patients: doctors’ outright refusal to treat us at all… I am talking about the way individuals and institutions treat me, regardless of what I say or how I feel about myself.

(To be continued…)

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Everything You Know About Obesity is Wrong,” HuffingtonPost.com 09/19/18
Source: “The Way We Talk About Our Bodies Is Deeply Flawed,” Medium.com, 04/23/19
Image by George Ian Bowles/Public Domain

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

FAQs and Media Requests: Click here…

Profiles: Kids Struggling with Weight

Profiles: Kids Struggling with Obesity top bottom

The Book

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.

Food & Health Resources