Your body weight can impact your health care more than you think.

January 20, 2010

By Shaun Chavis
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I hope you'll get a chance to read "The Surprising Reason Heavy Isn't Healthy" in Health's January/February 2010 issue. Our writer and editors did some investigating into a problem that has not yet been fully researched (but I hope it will be): How body weight impacts health care.

Your weight can influence how well diagnostic equipment works (even stethoscopes!), how well drugs work, your doctor's attitude (in one survey doctors actually indicated that seeing heavy patients was "a waste of time"), and even procedures that hospitals will allow (some turn down heavy patients because they want to keep their success rates up).

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One out of every three American adults is obese, and two out of every three are overweight, according to the data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These Americans need medical care not only for the weight itself, but also for all the problems that weight causes. I'd like to see our medical and health insurance communities address barriers and biases—how can we really beat the obesity epidemic until we start treating people for it?

I've started taking classes at my local YMCA, and some of the exercises I modify because of my sore knees, which I've seen physical therapists about. The instructor, a slim marathon runner, has knee problems too. She's talked about all the things she's learned from her physical therapist about the right way to bend her knee, the right way to put weight on her legs, and so on.

And I realized: The physical therapist I worked with a few years ago never told me any of that!

I couldn't help but wonder if I got different care than my instructor because of my weight. I know it's absolutely up to me to lose the weight that will relieve a lot of my knee pain. But since I need to use my knees to exercise and lose weight, I'd love to get the medical instruction I need to avoid damaging my knees further—and hopefully strengthen them for the goal ahead of me.

Ever feel like your doc's fat-phobia is standing in the way of the care you deserve? Read Health magazine's article for how to speak out and get the help you need, and my post on what to do if you're afraid to go to the doctor because of your weight. If you've got any tips that can help others, please share!

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