Not long ago, I heard a story of how a woman was incensed over the fact that a doctor told her to lose weight. It was gently pointed out to this person that it’s generally a doctor’s job to recognize health issues and bring them to a patient’s attention, even when those issues aren’t what the patient wants to hear.
Unfortunately, it appears that this offended patient wasn’t an isolated case. A newly released survey by the British medical magazine Pulse finds that 32 percent of general practice (GP) doctors say “they have offended a patient by raising the issue of them being overweight.”
Because of this offense, doctors report that they are often hesitant to address the issue, a fact which may cause their patients more problems further down the road:
“East London-based GP Dr Tope Ajayi said he has seen 'many a patient with chronic knee pain who have been clearly overweight' but he has 'weighed up whether or not it's worth bringing up the fact the patient's weight may be contributing to their pain for fear of it negatively affecting my relationship with the patient'.
But Dr Ajayi said that not broaching the subject could lead to unnecessary medical investigations when 'in fact [the patient's weight] should be addressed first'.”
Commenting on the study, another doctor noted:
“2 complaints in the last 10 years from people offended that I mentioned their weight (both had BMI north of 40) as a risk factor for all sorts of illnesses. Both complained that my observation was ‘not relevant to their problems (knee pain and back pain)’. So now I dress any observations up in some generic guff about lifestyle and leave it to the diabetic nurse to cross the flabby rubicon.”
A third doctor commented:
“This is ridiculous we have to all stop being so politically correct and if we offend patients bad luck if weight is the problem tell them so!”
Such problems seem to underscore a major, emerging problem that has risen in society in recent years, namely, oversensitivity.
We can’t point out that there are clear biological differences between men and women because to do so is considered “sexist.”
We can’t suggest that students of color should be treated the same as other students - instead getting special privileges - because to do so is “racist.”
And we can no longer debate various ideas in public because they aren’t “politically correct.”
It’s easy to see that patients who are insulted when their doctor tells them to lose some weight are being overly sensitive and becoming their own worst enemy in the long run.
But do Americans fall into the same trap when they express outrage and offense at every turn? Could our oversensitivity and tendency to make everything so politically correct land us in the same position as the patient who won’t address his weight issues because he finds the doctor insulting?
Annie Holmquist is editor of Intellectual Takeout, an online magazine and sister publication of Chronicles.