DALLAS – June 8, 2022 – While a higher percentage of White and Asian adults acknowledge the existence of weight bias in society, Hispanic and Black Americans were more likely to experience it first hand, according to a new study* presented today here during the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery (ASMBS) Annual Meeting (#ASMBS2022).
Hispanic (47%) and Black adults (44.6%) reported personally experiencing weight bias at higher rates compared to White (42.5%) and Asian Americans (40.5%), though large majorities in each group -- White (94.1%), Asian (89.3%) Hispanic (86.4%) and Black Americans (83%) – say they recognize weight bias and discrimination as an issue in America. When asked what Americans think about people with obesity, respondents overwhelmingly said Americans think people with obesity are lazy and lack control.
“Weight bias in this country is pervasive, dangerous and cuts across all racial and ethnic groups,” said study co-author Matthew J. Townsend, MD, an internal medicine resident focused on obesity medicine at Duke University Medical Center. “People who face weight bias are less likely to seek medical care and are at an increased risk for depression, weight gain, profound psychological harm, and work place discrimination. Legislation has the potential to create more equitable protection, but unfortunately there are currently no federal laws against weight-based discrimination.”
About half of all respondents support such legislation though Black adults (56.7%) were more likely than White (49.1%) or Hispanic (49.5%) adults to support such laws. Weight bias also has the effect of interfering with weight loss. Nearly 60% of Hispanic, 47.8% of Black and 43.9% of White respondents reported it had an impact on their ability to control their weight.
Obesity was recognized as a disease similarly across groups (62.5% of Asian, 61.1% of Hispanic, 61.3% of Black, and 60.4% of White Americans) and those with personal experience of weight bias were more likely to support laws against weight-based discrimination.
“Legislation, education, compassion, empathy and understanding are all in short supply when it comes to weight bias and obesity stigma,” said Shanu Kothari, MD, President, ASMBS, who was not involved in the study. “All of us need to do more to help overcome this insidious issue, which can occur in any setting in both subtle and not so subtle ways.”
For the study, 1,888 adult respondents completed a 26-item online questionnaire: 328 Asian/Pacific Islander, 404 Hispanic/Latinx, 395 Non-Hispanic Black, 761 Non-Hispanic White. Logistic regressions identified predictors of support for anti-discrimination legislation controlling for age, gender, income, and self-reported weight. Chi-square and Kruskal-Wallis tests compared categorical and ordinal variables.
About Weight-Loss Surgery
Metabolic/bariatric or weight-loss surgery such as gastric bypass and sleeve gastrectomy have been shown to be the most effective and long-lasting treatment for severe obesity. The operations improve or resolve diseases including type 2 diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure and leads to significant and durable weight loss. Its safety profile is comparable to some of the safest and most commonly performed surgeries in the U.S., including gallbladder surgery, appendectomy and knee replacement. Weight-loss surgery is generally reserved for people with severe obesity, which means about 75 to 100 pounds overweight or having a BMI of 35 or higher with an obesity-related disease. Obesity is linked to early death and more than 40 diseases including type 2 diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, stroke, osteoarthritis and at least 13 different types of cancer.[i],[ii],[iii] According to the ASMBS, less than 1% of those eligible for weight-loss surgery currently have it in any given year -- about 256,000 bariatric surgeries were performed in 2019, the latest estimates available.
The ASMBS is the largest organization for bariatric surgeons in the nation. It is a non-profit organization that works to advance the art and science of bariatric surgery and is committed to educating medical professionals and the lay public about bariatric surgery as an option for the treatment of severe obesity, as well as the associated risks and benefits. It encourages its members to investigate and discover new advances in bariatric surgery, while maintaining a steady exchange of experiences and ideas that may lead to improved surgical outcomes for patients with severe obesity. For more information, visit www.asmbs.org.
*Perceptions of Obesity, Weight Bias, and Weight-Based Discrimination Laws by Race/Ethnicity
Matthew Townsend, Durham, NC1, Theodore Kyle, Pittsburgh, PA2, Gwyn Cready, Pittsburgh, PA3, James Zervios, Tampa, FL4, Fatima Stanford, Boston, MA5 Duke University Medical Center,1 ConscienHealth,2 CreadyCo,3 Obesity Action Coalition,4Massachusetts General Hospital5
[i] The Effectiveness and Risks of Bariatric Surgery: An Updated Systematic Review and Meta-analysis, 2003-2012. Accessed from: https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamasurgery/fullarticle/1790378
[ii] Steele CB, Thomas CC, Henley SJ, et al. Vital Signs: Trends in Incidence of Cancers Associated with Overweight and Obesity — United States, 2005–2014. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2017;66:1052–1058. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm6639e1
[iii] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2015) The Health Effects of Overweight and Obesity. Accessed from: https://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/effects/index.html