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Nurses biased against obese patients?


A recent article in the LA Times, “Doctors and nurses’ weight biases harm overweight patients,” takes nurses to task for their collective prejudice against obese people. “At least 11 studies focusing on nurses’ attitudes toward overweight and obese patients have been published,” the article said. “They consistently show that many nurses harbor negative biases toward these patients and, in some cases, would prefer not to care for them or even touch them.”
According to the research studies, most nurses perceive obese people as lazy and unmotivated, and obesity as a failure of will. But nurses are obese too. A 2008 study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners found that 53% of nurse-respondents surveyed were obese. The national obesity rate for Americans, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, is 64%.

Local studies occasionally reveal even higher rates of nurse obesity. An NYU student surveyed 66 nurses on a Cardiac Intensive Care Unit in a major hospital in New York. Eighty-six percent of the nurses were obese, despite “having appropriate educational materials at their fingertips for the prevention and treatment of obesity.”

Yet studies consistently reveal a pronounced anti-fat bias among nurses — and education does not seem to be the answer. In fact, a 2009 study published in the Journal of Clinical Nursing, found that Registered Nurses held more negative attitudes toward obese patients than student nurses did.

What do you think? Do you think nurses are biased against overweight patients? Have you seen examples of anti-fat prejudice at work?


Jennifer Fink, RN, BSN
Jennifer is a professional freelance writer with over eight years experience as a hospital nurse. She has clinical experience in adult health, including med-surg, geriatrics and transplant; she also has a particular interest in women’s health and cancer care. Jennifer has written a variety of health and parenting articles for national publications.

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