A qualitative exploration of obesity bias and stigma in Irish healthcare; the patients’ voice

Type Article

Journal Article


G. O'Donoghue; C. Cunningham; M. King; C. O'Keefe; A. Rofaeil; S. McMahon

Year of publication



PLoS One








BACKGROUND: Current data indicates 70% of adults with obesity report experiencing bias and stigmatisation when engaging with healthcare. Most studies to date, have focused on weight bias from a healthcare professional's perspective. Few have explored weight bias from the perspective of the individual living with obesity and no study has conducted this research in the Irish context. AIMS: This study explored, the lived-in experience of individuals afflicted with obesity, when interacting with the Irish healthcare system. It examined whether participants encountered weight bias and stigma, if so, how it may have impacted them and gathered their suggestions on how it could be best addressed. METHODS: Employing a phenomenological approach, purposive sampling and semi-structured interviews were conducted with 15 individuals living with class II (BMI 35.0-39.9) or III obesity (BMI ≥40kg/m2) who reported regular and consistent engagement with the Irish healthcare system. Predominant emergent themes were categorised using the interview domains; (1) experiences of obesity bias and stigma, (2) impact of this bias and stigma and (3) suggested avenues to reduce bias and stigma. FINDINGS: Participants reported experiencing high levels of weight bias and stigmatisation. Relating to experiences, three themes were identified; interpersonal communication, focus of care and physical environment. In terms of its impact, there were two emergent themes; negativity towards future healthcare and escalation of unhealthy behaviours. Suggested avenues to eliminate bias and stigma included the introduction of a timely and clear clinical pathway for obesity management and a focus on HCPs education in relation to obesity causes and complexity. CONCLUSIONS: Outside of specialist obesity tertiary care, weight bias and stigmatisation is commonly reported in the Irish healthcare system. It is a significant issue for those living with obesity, detrimental to their physiological and psychological health. A concerted effort by HCPs across clinical, research and educational levels is required to alleviate its harmful effects.