July 31 (UPI) -- Researchers at Touro University College of Osteopathic Medicine launched an educational initiative to reduce medical students' bias toward obese patients.
The study, published in the August edition of The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, suggests shifting physicians' perspective from individual responsibility to a treatable condition may impact rising obesity rates.
"We know there are economic, cultural, political and environmental elements causing this problem, yet our approach to treatment puts sole responsibility on the patient's behavior," Michael Clearfield, dean of Touro University's College of Osteopathic Medicine, said in a press release. "It's not unlike the way we treated depression 40 years ago. Only, instead of telling people to 'get over it', we say, 'just eat right and exercise.'"
The new curriculum for students at Touro University launched in 2012 and measures medical students' attitudes on the Fat Phobia Scale, which measures biased beliefs in stereotypes.
Students then get instruction on the causes and treatments of obesity with follow-up testing for every year of medical school.
Researchers found that students who completed the program significantly reduced their bias by an average of 7 percent.
"Sometimes physicians don't believe that obese people will take care of themselves, so they spend less time with them and, as a result, they miss things in their examinations," Clearfield said.
Clearfield said that patients often sense physicians' attitudes toward them, feel embarrassed and stop following medical advice as a result.
"With an improved diet, we can get measurably healthier in just 7 to 10 days," Clearfield said. "From an osteopathic perspective, we need to acknowledge the importance of those small steps so physicians don't give up on patients and patients don't give up on themselves."