The disease of obesity affects more than 100 million American adults and nearly 15 million children. Obesity is a complex disease with many causes, including genetic predisposition, food access, stress, and socioeconomic factors. But while obesity can lead to many other ailments, for many, it isn’t the only threat to their health. It’s their doctors as well. More specifically, the entrenched biases that many in the medical field hold toward those who suffer from obesity.
Weight bias: the silent killer
Weight bias—discrimination aimed at individuals because of their weight—is both dehumanizing and damaging to patients with obesity. It often causes physicians to believe that obesity is a patient’s only health issue. Even worse, that every other medical problem they’re experiencing is the result of this disease. This not only leads to poor physical and psychological outcomes, it also further marginalizes people with obesity in society. This is exactly the problem that the Obesity Action Coalition hopes to solve
Thoughtform has been working with the Obesity Action Coalition (OAC), a nonprofit organization dedicated to serving the needs of those affected by obesity, and ConscienHealth, an advocacy organization, to redesign the healthcare experience for patients with obesity. This work aims to create a healthcare experience free from weight bias, in both the physical doctor’s office environment and the patients’ emotional experience. It imagines a future where doctors treat patients with respect and acknowledge people with obesity as the experts on their own health.
“Since its creation in 2005, the OAC has continually worked to improve the lives of people affected by the disease of obesity,” says James Zervios, OAC VP & Chief of Staff. “One of the most prevalent instances of weight bias for someone in their life is in the healthcare setting. OAC is working with Thoughtform to improve this experience through patient-centered care that is free from weight bias. Our collaborative work has been extremely valuable in helping us understand patient needs. We are very excited for what we will accomplish together.”
Getting the word out
As part of this work, Thoughtform Strategist Gwyn Cready presented to the Lived Experience Innovation Collaborative and the Roundtable on Obesity Solutions at the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. In a special session, members of the Collaborative were treated to a walkthrough of the work so far.
Before designing anything, we began by speaking directly to parents about their lived experiences with weight-bias. This is the first and most important step to designing a truly patient-centered office visit. Their voices will remain front and center when considering how doctors need to change how they treat patients with obesity. This work provides a view of what’s possible when advocacy and design come together to change long-held cultural biases.
“I think these thoughts and ideas are long overdue,” said one healthcare provider who participated in the Roundtable. “I often find the evidence can get in the way of the human side, in terms of being eye to eye with your patients. Using science as a way of masking bias, even unconscious bias, creates blinders in the medical community. It can blind providers to the struggles our patients with obesity experience in all parts of the journey.”
Our goal is to leverage OAC’s decades of experience, ConscienHealth’s advocacy efforts, and our own expertise in experience design for healthcare to deliver this patient-centered, patient-designed healthcare experience to doctors’ offices. Stay tuned in the coming months as this work develops!