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Dr. Fat-Attack

Cites evidences of how doctors' cultural biases can get in the way of providing responsible medical care. Experiences of some of the 118 women interviewed for a study by Jaclyn Packer of the Medical and Health Research Association of New York City; Comments on their overweight condition by doctors.

Doctors are just as caught up in the biases of the culture as anyone. Trouble is, it can get in the way of providing responsible medical care. A new study by a New York psychologist shows just how weighty the matter can be.

Women who are more than 30 percent overweight say that their doctors often berate them about their weight, act disrespectfully while examining them, misattribute health problems to their weight and fail to follow standard medical procedures. As a result, obese women may avoid physicians for years at a time and risk endangering their personal health, reports Jaclyn Packer, Ph.D., of the Medical and Health Research Association of New York City.

At the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association, she recounted the true experiences of some of the 118 women she interviewed.

"I had made up my mind to have surgery [for a possible malignant ovarian cyst]. He said to me, 'While we have you open, have you ever considered having a stomach stapling done?' That was when I should have left. And it upset me that I can't do that. That I just sit there, that I just can't say, 'What the hell are you talking about? That has absolutely nothing to do with why I'm here. Why are you even bringing that up?'"

"When I went to [my gynecologist] and I wanted some sort of method of birth control, she said 'Who are you going to get? Captain Ahab?"'

"I was raped, and the police took me to the hospital because they had to take a sample. The doctor said 'You really should lose weight.' I thought it was totally inappropriate, but I was in no condition to tell him. And doctors do that all the time."

"I've gone to doctors for minor complaints and come out suicidal because of what the doctor said to me. You know...a doctor really has the ability to make you want to die in a lot of ways that are direct and indirect. It certainly makes you want to never come back, and ultimately, if you happen to have some disease process, that can kill you."

"I went to this gynecologist, and she was taking down the questions, and she goes 'And you're not sexually active now, are you?' And I said, 'Well, yes, I am sexually active.' 'Oh, are you?' 'Yes, I am.' So she's examining me and she's talking about this, that, and the other thing, and then she says again, 'You know, if you were sexually active, I'd do this, or that, or whatever,' and I said, 'Well, I am sexually active. I'm very active now, sexually.' [Then] she was talking about my period, and how I didn't need it unless I wanted to get pregnant, but I'm probably not sexually active. And I couldn't believe it. [Finally on] my paper work, she wrote something about 'sexual activity--none."'

PHOTO: A doctor looking through a magnifying glass.