Healthcare For Overweight Patients: Is It The Same?

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Is healthcare for overweight patients the same as everyone else?  Join us as our guest contributor,  Doctor Jeffrey D. Breckenridge, answers this very important question.

Overweight Patients

“Hello? Dr. Breckenridge? This is the emergency room… I have an admission for the resident’s floor… blah…blah…blah. On physical exam this guy’s a “Land Whale…”

I remember this conversation with a new ER Physician because this was the first time I had ever heard a patient called “a Land Whale”. What I remember even more vividly was the doctor’s expression when I stepped into the ER to admit the patient. Dr. Breckenridge, Chief Resident and “Fellow Land Whale” striding into the ER at 425 lbs.,  in my 6XL scrubs!

Some providers and nurses view overweight patients as being unintelligent, lazy, sloppy, weak-willed or even unclean. A study at Yale University showed that, 24 percent of nurses said they are “repulsed by obese persons”  (Puhl & Brownell, 2001). Overweight people are made fun of in almost every branch of society; and the field of medicine is not immune to disparaging attitudes towards overweight patients. Being an overweight doctor has in some ways shielded me from some of the venomous remarks made about patients, but regrettably not all. Here are some of the terms used to describe overweight patients:

  • Land Whale – Obese patient
  • Yellow Submarine – Obese patient with Jaundice from Liver Disease
  • “Whopper” with Cheese – Obese woman with a vaginal yeast infection
  • “Big Mac” with Ketchup – Obese woman with bloody vaginal discharge
  • Patient has the “4 Fs” –Female, Fat, 40 & Fertile (Patient with Gall bladder disease risk factors)

All these are jokingly used throughout medical education in the US. I hear the United Kingdom has their version of reproachful terminology. However, no matter where in the world you are, these terms are indefensible, offensive and rude.

Some providers and nurses view obese people as being unintelligent, lazy, sloppy, weak-willed or even…

The American Healthcare System needs a “wake-up” call. This is about the plain simple issue of human decency and caring for our fellow man. Currently two-thirds of all American adults are either overweight or obese (Colditz, & Lin, 2015); and to be perfectly upfront, the current healthcare system is not ready for “Fat America.”  Between ill-proportioned lobby chairs and wheel chairs; inadequate scales; tiny gowns that won’t cover your ass; CT, MRI and operating tables with maximum weights of 350 pounds; along with wall-mounted toilets that only hold 300 pounds –  obese patients definitely do not feel welcome or comfortable.

Obese patients not only feel uncomfortable physically when the equipment is not fitted for them, but they also feel emotionally uncomfortable when they are harassed about their weight. Patients are more likely to postpone appointments and examinations if they feel they will be derided about their weight. Patients have indicated to me that previous providers would address their weight even at acute visits for respiratory infections or other non-obese related issues. They felt picked on and even embarrassed with the same discussion at every appointment.

The current healthcare system is not ready for “Fat America.”

The level of discomfort to patients is nowhere more prevalent than in Women’s Healthcare to Overweight & Obese Women. Studies from Yale University show overweight women visit the doctor’s office more frequently than “non-obese” women. However,  the higher their Body Mass Index (BMI), the more likely they were to be delayed for breast exams, gynecological exams and pap smears (Puhl & Brownell, 2001). Yet, their being overweight did not correlate with delayed mammograms. Why? The examinations where a provider was required to do a personal assessment were delayed either by the provider or by the patient. However, the radiographic test that patients schedule themselves through the hospital was not negatively associated with the patient’s BMI.

The level of discomfort to patients is more prevalent in Women’s Healthcare to Overweight Women.

Hospitals are facing cost and frustration for remodeling and upgrades to make their facilities service ready, but let’s face it, it’s not because they love us it is because of money. They should be dedicated to providing safe, comfortable, state of the art healthcare to all Americans, not just the skinny ones. It first starts with changing of the attitude; including the language, the name-calling and the provisions for treatment.

What has been your experience? please share in the comment section.

Article was written by Jeffrey D. Breckenridge, MD.  Please contact Dr. Breckenridge at


Colditz, G.A. & Lin, y. (2015). Prevalence of overweight, obesity in the United States, 2007-2012. Journal of American Medical Association, 175(8), 1412-1413. doi:  10.1001/jamainternmed.2015.2405

Peart, K.N. (2001). Obese people suffer bias from a variety of social sources, including their own physicians. Office of Public Affairs at Yale University.

Puhl, R., &  Brownell, K.D. (2001). Bias, discrimination, and obesity. Obesity Research,  788-805.


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126 Responses

  1. Chelsea says:

    I believe doctors and nurses should act in a professional matter towards a patient whether they can be heard by the patient or not. Terms like these should be unacceptable.

  2. My mind never went in that direction. Thanks for sharing this post with us. Enjoyed reading.

  3. Kecia says:

    As an overweight woman, I have been thankful to have understanding doctors that don’t point out my size at each visit. I don’t like to visit the doctor, but I do go when needed. When the doctor and I talk about my weight, it’s always in a helpful manner.

    • says:

      Kecia, well there you go. No matter what your weight or condition, you should be comfortable with your doctor.

  4. Amber Nelson says:

    Being overweight is not fun. I wish people were more tactful in the way the presented their information. So rude!

  5. Nikki Arnold says:

    This makes me so angry that doctors who are supposed to help people act that way. Its very sad and healthcare should be more professional.

  6. Jeanine says:

    Wow. That is crazy. I had no idea. Glad to read and be educated though, I wouldn’t ever even think of this!

  7. Kristin says:

    You would think healthcare would be dedicated to the fair and equal treatment of any patient. These are sad, sad statistics!

  8. Reesa Lewandowski says:

    This is really very sad to me! These are people who are supposed to be there for us all, no matter our shape or size!

    • says:

      What about that oath they take, first do no harm. Speaking like that about patients is doing harm, don’t you think?

  9. anvita says:

    Oh my!!!! I had no clue doctors could categorize patients like that behind their backs. These kind of doctors are definitely not helping the patients on an emotional level

    • says:

      Anvita I am glad to know that not all doctors are shit heads. I lift my hat to the many who are carrying out their duties respecfully

  10. Kerri says:

    I had never heard of that expression and I am so sorry that you did. Your article opened me up to a new look at healthcare and how important it is that we are aware.

  11. Angie Rose says:

    I can’t believe people in the healthcare field can be like this. I wish people would get to know someone and ask questions before they judge. I really don’t see how treating people like this is helpful in the long run and benefits patients moving forward. Hoping for positive changes in the future.

    • says:

      Angie I hope this will serve as a conversation starter because there needs to be changes

  12. Emma says:

    Wow – I always thought doctors had more compassion than that – to find out that they talk about patients like that behind their backs is so offensive!

    • says:

      Emma I have always been suspicious so this is just confirming my worst fears. This is just awful.

  13. I definitely agree the attitude is an issue. I have overweight family members, and sometimes they are just flat out ridiculed by their doctors. I definitely agree we need a revamp of how we think about things here.

    • says:

      Katherine I would not be spending a dime with any doctor who does not treat me with dignity and I urge everyone to remember that they have options.

  14. I don’t even think I am that large, a little over weight, yes for sure. I am 5 foot 2 and 150 and when I got pregnant the 2nd time my Dr. made comments about me being overweight and not really wanting me to gain.. I know it made me feel terrible, so I can’t imagine how even larger individuals feel. My sister is obese, and she is working to live a healthier life now but I know how hard it has been on her.

    • says:

      Jessi I really believe these doctors are like that because they don’t love the persons they serve.

  15. That’s so counter productive and very rude as well. Medical personnel should be trying to help these people – often it’s vicious circle that the overweight person can’t leave without help.

    • says:

      Nadine you have hit the nail on the head. It is a vicious cycle and many times we assume that they are not trying.

  16. I once had a doctor claim that she couldn’t feel my organs beneath my fat stomach. Funny thing was my stomach was completely flat and I was left with bruises from her pushing so hard. I never went back. Just because you are overweight doesn’t mean you are unhealthy, just like skinny doesn’t mean you are in tip top shape.

    • says:

      Sigh…whatever the news we have to give, Blythe…there is a right and a wrong way to give that news.

  17. Carolyn says:

    I did not even realize how bad it was and that medical professionals would be using terms like those. Thanks for sharing and helping more people empathize.

    • says:

      Carolyn until we have walked a mile in someone’s shoes it’s hard to speak for them. Empathy is so lacking these days

  18. Danielle says:

    I am an overweight female and to my knowledge have never been made fun of when seeing a doctor or nurse. I say to my knowledge, because if I were made fun of it certainly wasn’t to my face. I can’t believe some of the hurtful nicknames healthcare providers use. As a bystander, if I overheard a nurse or making such a comment, I’d definitely feel obliged to say something.

    • says:

      Danielle, I don’t think any medical personnel would be so callous as to say these things face to face…LOL…at least I hope not

  19. So instead of getting the treatment that they heavily need, they will shy away and get even more sick. This is so disappointing, to think that these people are highly educated.

  20. I was floored by your post. I had no idea. I have friends and family in the field and no one has ever told me about these names. I hope that others who use these read this and are ashamed enough to stop.

    • says:

      Terri, I hope so too. We are all humans with feelings so we should be careful what we say about each other

  21. Teresa says:

    I find those terms to be very offensive regardless if they refer to a large person or a small person. I think I might have had to report someone had I overheard that terminology used. I don’t find this behavior appropriate.

    • says:

      Teresa, this is highly inappropriate regardless of the size of the person. I totally agree with you

  22. It’s a real problem and the patients should feel comfortable and cared for. Thanks for writing on this important topic.

    • says:

      Thesociakbeing721 I believe that regardless of your size you should feel comfortable when you go to the doctor.

  23. These nicknames are for real? WOW. I know weight has a dramatic impact on your health, for sure. I would think folks in the health arena would be a bit more…professional…about it, though. Sad 🙁

    • says:

      Kristen nobody can deny that too much weight has serious implications. However you are right, that is not the way to deal with patients who are overweight

  24. eazynazy says:

    OMG i can’t believe those terms are used for patients???This was really enlightnin

  25. I guess I never thought that those in the medical field would be so judgmental, but here it is, plain as day. Such harsh words, and it saddens me to even think that this is the way medical staff would talk about their patients.

    • says:

      Joanna, I never thought those thoughtless words would come from the mouths of medical personnel…and in public too.

  26. Brandy says:

    Incredibly sad that those who are there to treat actually have “bully” names for a person’s condition. So glad you’re bringing this to light.

  27. karen says:

    Wow – so interesting about the nicknames being used. Very sad stuff, and a major part of concerns with health issues in America. I wish our portions werent so massive when one goes out to eat. That could help guide everyone.

    • says:

      Karen everything in the USA is supersized, then they wonder why people put weight on. Guide them as their doctor but don’t speak negatively about them after they are helping to pay your salary

  28. I am not from America, but when I visit, I see the food quantity is far bigger than some other developed countries. This brings the problems of being overweight. Until I hit this post, I never realized that when you look at the Doctor-patient relationship, there should be openness and honesty not how can Doctors make more money out of their patient’s pockets. At the same time Doctors should not be partial, however, they are. Which in my opinion, a bad thing for this profession. I hope the American Health system gets an overhaul and Doctors (those who are out of their heads) also get an overhaul.

    • says:

      Vishal, it took some getting used to when I moved to the US too. The portion sizes are large as if they are trying to get everyone to overindulge. However, doctors should be telling patients what to do to combat this rather than speaking about them in those negative terms

  29. Anosa says:

    Good to know that there are doctors who are brave enough to speak out. Sometimes we cannot please other people so we need to set ourselves with some criticisms.

    • says:

      Anosa, I agree with you. This is a bold move but one that needed to be done

  30. wendy says:

    I don’t think doctors or nurses should treat someone any differently if they are skinny or fat. They are there to do a job and treat the sick. It is not just in healthcare that this is happening, it is everywhere. The information is fascinating, to say the least. People should be kinder than what they are nowadays.

  31. Elizabeth O. says:

    You would expect that body shaming wouldn’t be an issue in the medical world, but here it is out in the open. I feel for these people, it’s tough enough that they’re facing a medical issue, and we’re going to add even more pain because of the body shaming.

    • says:

      Elizabeth, I fear that they will delay treatment because they are fearful of how they will be treated.

  32. Andrea says:

    Wow, I really had no idea. The terms used by some medical professionals is unacceptable. I think it is great that you’re sharing this to bring awareness to the issue.

    • says:

      Homemadeforelle thanks to Dr. Jeffrey Breckenridge for being brave enough to open the lid

  33. I am slightly overweight now I wonder if doctors and nurses speak about it. Terrible thing to do.

    • says:

      Cynthia it is such a shame. I do not expect this from persons in the medical field at all. They should be exposed and shunned

  34. I’ve heard ER doctors describing patients with their nurses in ER before but not the same terms.

    • says:

      Wow, Hey should there even be negative terms to describe anyone? Especially persons who are coming to you for health care

  35. bel says:

    These words are definitely mean and would hurt any body who hears them whether or not the comments are directed at them. However, if you work in the health care system you will realize that most doctors are frustrated by patients, failure to take drugs or even adhere to advice given to them. It is always more difficult to attend to an obese patient. While I definitely advocate for better attitude towards patients, it is unfair to just through the health care system under the bus. As for ‘judging a book by its cover’ I think a doctor and a nurse who have probably followed your case from your chemistry to your physiology know you inside out so it’s difficult to do so even if you tried. Every patients journey is also your journey, you know the insides and outsides of it. It gets stressful. You as a doctor you know the downsides of being obese and it’s not easy helping them. Yes, I do realize there are diseases that force you to be overweight, I’m have to learn them by heart but please don’t think that we have it out for the obese.

    • says:

      Bel, thank you so much for taking the time to write such a well thought out comment. I don’t think that every health care person is tactless and we applaud those who are not. However, the ones who would refer to any patient in that manner needs to be talked about

  36. Jay Simms says:

    Those terms are really mean, and has no place coming from someone who is in the Medical Field. I would never judge someone and make them feel better!

    • says:

      Jay, those words should not come from anyone but having them come from a medical personnel is even worst in my mind.

  37. Erin says:

    Oh my goodness! I can not BELIEVE those terms are used to describe patients! Anyone who would EVER speak like that about anyone else should NOT be in healthcare! Such a shame!

    • says:

      Erin, I could not believe it myself. The whole thing left me with a case of sadness

  38. This is sadly not just in the health care industry like you said, but everywhere… How do we feel that name calling and shaming is encouraging to others! Thanks for shedding some light from your experiences… We need more people out there putting a good experience first and just loving one another!

    • says:

      Steven I second that. When we have gotten to the point where we treat persons the way we would like to be treated, we will have a much better world.

  39. Thank you for writing about his topic. I can only empathize with the people suffering from this condition.

    • says:

      JoJo and thank you very much for stopping by and taking the time to read this post

  40. Sarah Bailey says:

    This is sad. I had no idea about what they call overweight individuals. These medical professionals who say these mean things should undergo a personality or psychological test before they get hired.

    • says:

      Sarah yes they should. Perhaps they should include sensitivity training when they are training medical personnel. Although if you are a terrible person sometimes training will not change the way you think or act

  41. Natasha says:

    I wish that everyone could get fair healthcare. We live in a place where it’s completely possible, yet still seems impossible. >sigh<

  42. Karlyn Cruz says:

    An enormous number of short and long term health benefits can be achieved with even 5 – 10% weight loss although even greater health benefits can be achieved if enough weight can be lost to return from being overweight or obese to a healthy body mass index range.

    • says:

      Karlyn I absolutely agree that weight loss is a good thing for everyone of us. However, that still does not give any health worker the right to treat obese patients negatively.

  43. Amber Myers says:

    Wow, those terms that are used are terrible! I try to never judge.

    • says:

      Amber same here and that is something persons in the medical field should also try not to do.

  44. That’s awful is medical professionals are using those terms to describe patients.

  45. colleen wool says:

    I found this sad. Everyone should receive the same healthcare.

  46. Liz Mays says:

    These are things I hadn’t considered! I hope those in healthcare are able to do some reflection and consider how their patients may be feeling.

    • says:

      Liz, it’s amazing. I never considered it either. Unless you have walked a mile in someone’s shoes you really have no idea

  47. tara pittman says:

    Wow this is sad to know. It is sad to know that overweight people are being judged like that.

    • says:

      Tara and judged by people who should know better. That is just mean spirited

  48. Jolina says:

    I knew this was probably happening in general but that it also happens in the medical field – where you’re expecting care and comfort – was a huge surprise. Hopefully bringing this to light can be the first step to change.

  49. Jessica says:

    I had no idea that there really was a difference in how overweight patients were treated.
    xo Jessica

    • says:

      Jessica thank you for stopping by and for taking the time to leave a comment

  50. robin Rue says:

    I had no idea people in the healthcare field treated heavy people this way. That’s not very nice at all.

    • says:

      Robin so not nice. I expect them to behave a lot better than ordinary people out there

  51. I never heard of the rude terms until now. It’s very offensive to an overweight patient. Doctors shouldn’t judge a person just because of their weight. An overweight patient should be treatment equally the same and with respect. No one is perfect but God.

    • says:

      Francisca, I could not have said it better. Thank you for your contribution to this discussion

  52. Health care should be different for overweight and obese individuals — but only to the extent of identifying and treating the problem, which is overweight and obesity. Otherwise, all patients should be treated fairly and equally regardless of the number on the scale.

  53. CourtneyLynne says:

    Ughhh everything to do with healthcare is such a touchy and hard subject! I wish there was an easy solution for everyone regardless of weight, gender, age etc…

    • says:

      CourtneyLynne you are absolutely right. As a recent transplant from Jamaica, I am still trying to process why it is this way here.

  54. This is a topic that needs to be discussed more. Everyone should receive equal treatment in health care.

  55. Dana says:

    I can imagine it would be very hard. Being overweight is hard enough. The doctor’s office is one place you should feel like people are listening to you and are there to help you.

    • says:

      Dana that is exactly what I say. This should be the place you feel at home. Its very sad

  56. Pierre says:

    Most unfortunate. I would expect health care professionals to be sensitive to people with weight problems.

    • says:

      Pierre, it is indeed most unfortunate. Those who are not overweight should also avoid doctors that speak ill of their patients

  57. This was an interesting post. My dad was a doctor but he did not show any impartiality when it came to treating his patients. I mean, not all healthcare workers are are like this. Illness can affect anyone, regardless of their weight. I think stereotyping people into something they’re not should stop.

  58. Erica Schwarz says:

    Medically speaking, obesity brings with it a slew of health issues and complications, and medical staff are correct in considering those. However, noone has the right to disparage, belittle, look down upon another no matter the circumstance. We are all God’s children, and He doesn’t make mistakes. Whether someone has a medical degree or not.

    • says:

      Erica…I totally agree with you. Maybe they need to start adding sensitivity training when they train doctors.

  59. Neely Moldovan says:

    Wow I never thought about this. That is crazy! This information was super helpful and eye opening.

    • says:

      Neely, when I saw it I was so annoyed because people are supposed to be able to trust medical workers

  60. Our healthcare system needs a lot of work. It has always been about money. Not really about the health of the American people. It’s very sad.

  61. Maria Long says:

    Yes it is hard to not judge a book by its cover until you talk to a person One should never assume as we are all very complicated and know one knows are true story.

    • says:

      Maria you are so right. I wish we all would just put ourselves in other’s shoes

  62. Wendell says:

    Unfortunately, prejudice take many forms. Thank you for an honest appraisal of the pain caused by this form of discrimination.

  63. Yolanda says:

    Wow I did not realize that people in the healthcare field could be so cynical. This information was enlightening. Thank you

    • says:

      Yolanda I learnt a great deal from this expose as well. I am very annoyed by this because medical personnel should be the last persons to treat a patient like this. Thanks to Dr. Brekenridge for speaking out and thank you for taking the time to read and leave a comment.