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Scaling back: Weighing women patients in medical appointments can be bad for their mental health


Getting the number on the scale may do more harm than good, according to researchers.

nurse weighing woman: © rocketclips - stock.adobe.com

© rocketclips - stock.adobe.com

Stepping on the scale at the doctor’s office may be bad for the mental health of women patients, with no guaranteed benefits for their physical health.

A new study found getting weighed at medical appointments can have a negative effect on the emotions, self-esteem, and mental health of female patients. That can cause the physician-patient relationship to suffer.

“Reasons for refusing to be weighed ranged from shame and embarrassment to lack of provider trust, personal autonomy, and concerns about discrimination,” the study said.

An alternative is using telehealth to provide health care services that are weight-inclusive, according to the study. Another option is to wait until the end of the appointment to determine if weighing is medically necessary, according to the researchers.

Most of time, weight isn’t necessary during medical appointments, study coauthor Virginia Ramseyer Winter said in a news release. Winter is an associate professor in the University of Missouri (UM) School of Social Work and director of the Center for Body Image Research and Policy.

But many patients don’t know they can say no to stepping on the scale.

Virginia Ramseyer Winter 
University of Missouri

Virginia Ramseyer Winter
University of Missouri

“The first step is getting the message out there that you can refuse being weighed. Most people don’t know,” Winter said in the news release. “Learning the reasons why people refuse being weighed gives us more insight on the broader relationship between people and their health care providers. We can utilize these findings to inform health care from a policy-level.”

The researchers recruited 384 adult women for a survey about details from their most recent health care visit. The group had diverse body sizes, so the results were not necessarily tied to a specific body size or type.

In the survey, 50.1% of women agreed it was agreeable to refuse to be weighed by a health care provider, but only 32.3% reported refusing to be weighed at the doctor’s office. Among them, 10.5% reported refusing to be weighed every time, according to the study.

Physicians and other clinicians also need to know women may avoid health care altogether due to mental or emotional discomfort about stepping on a scale, according to the authors.

Kate Trout 
University of Missouri

Kate Trout
University of Missouri

“The implications of these results show that we really need to start training the health care workforce to bring light to this issue because it is urgent,” coauthor Kate Trout said in the news release. Trout is an assistant professor in the UM College of Health Sciences “From our study, we know that over 30% of women are refusing to be weighed, and we also know that women will even avoid health care all together in an effort to refuse being weighed. We have to be more inclusive to ensure everyone gets the care they need, which could lead to improved health outcomes in the long term.”

The study acknowledged there are times when patient weight is needed for appropriate care. For example, weight is needed to compute correct dosages of medication, to monitor patients with congestive heart failure, or to track growth of infants.

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