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New Tool for Med Students: 'Fat Suit'

obese man

TUESDAY, Aug. 6, 2019 (HealthDay News) -- Can skinny doctors ever understand what it's like to be fat? A German medical school believes they can -- after they treat patients wearing "fat suits."

Having patients don fat suits may help teach medical students about obesity and uncover their biases against patients struggling with their weight, the researchers say.

They said reducing doctors' negative attitudes about obesity is important because these patients may have a number of related health issues. And the numbers of such patients are on the rise.

Also, doctors may blame these husky patients for their weight problems and treat them less respectfully than other patients.

"We strongly believe that integrating an obesity simulation suit into the routine undergraduate medical teaching context is a valuable tool. It can raise medical students' awareness for communication encounters with patients with obesity," said the study authors. They were led by Dr. Teresa Loda, from the department of psychosomatic medicine and psychotherapy at University Hospital, Tuebingen.

This role-playing study had volunteers wear an obesity simulation suit (fat suit) and pose as diabetes patients. More than 200 second-year medical students and 22 teachers took part in the study.

All three groups completed questionnaires. The responses showed that the medical students had more negative opinions about obesity than the patients or teachers.

The med students were more likely to agree more strongly with the statements "fat people could lose weight if they really wanted to," "most fat people are lazy," and "there is no excuse for being fat."

All the participants felt the fat suit was realistic, with 65% of students and 43.5% of teachers saying that it made the role play more convincing. Some of the medical students said the fat suit prompted obesity stereotyping.

Both students and teachers correctly assessed the level of obesity represented by the fat suit.

Teachers rated the suit highly as a teaching aid, with 74% feeling it helped create empathy. Many of the medical students also felt it helped them empathize with the patient.

The study was published Aug. 5 in the online journal BMJ Open.

Only female patients were used in the study, so potential gender specific factors could not be taken into account, said the researchers. They also noted that they weren't able to assess how much the role playing may have reduced any bias toward obese people.

More information

The National Eating Disorders Association has more on weight stigma.

SOURCE: BMJ Open, news release, Aug. 5, 2019
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