Weight bias among professionals treating eating disorders: attitudes about treatment and perceived patient outcomes

Int J Eat Disord. 2014 Jan;47(1):65-75. doi: 10.1002/eat.22186. Epub 2013 Sep 5.


Objective: This study aimed to assess weight bias among professionals who specialize in treating eating disorders and identify to what extent their weight biases are associated with attitudes about treating obese patients.

Method: Participants were 329 professionals treating eating disorders, recruited through professional organizations that specialize in eating disorders. Participants completed anonymous, online self-report questionnaires, assessing their explicit weight bias, perceived causes of obesity, attitudes toward treating obese patients, perceptions of treatment compliance and success of obese patients, and perceptions of weight bias among other practitioners.

Results: Negative weight stereotypes were present among some professionals treating eating disorders. Although professionals felt confident (289; 88%) and prepared (276; 84%) to provide treatment to obese patients, the majority (184; 56%) had observed other professionals in their field making negative comments about obese patients, 42% (138) believed that practitioners who treat eating disorders often have negative stereotypes about obese patients, 35% (115) indicated that practitioners feel uncomfortable caring for obese patients, and 29% (95) reported that their colleagues have negative attitudes toward obese patients. Compared to professionals with less weight bias, professionals with stronger weight bias were more likely to attribute obesity to behavioral causes, expressed more negative attitudes and frustrations about treating obese patients, and perceived poorer treatment outcomes for these patients.

Discussion: Similar to other health disciplines, professionals treating eating disorders are not immune to weight bias. This has important implications for provision of clinical treatment with obese individuals and efforts to reduce weight bias in the eating disorders field.

Keywords: attitudes; obesity; treatment; weight bias.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attitude of Health Personnel*
  • Behavioral Medicine
  • Body Image / psychology
  • Body Mass Index
  • Body Weight*
  • Clinical Competence / statistics & numerical data
  • Feeding and Eating Disorders / psychology
  • Feeding and Eating Disorders / therapy*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Models, Statistical
  • Obesity / psychology
  • Obesity / therapy
  • Perception
  • Professional-Patient Relations*
  • Self Report
  • Stereotyped Behavior*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Workforce