Research on Stigma From Health Professionals

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People with diabetes consistently report experiencing stigma in healthcare spaces and from health professionals. Here are key research findings and interventional studies from leading experts in the field.

A Qualitative Study of Perceived Responsibility and Self-Blame in Type 2 Diabetes: Reflections of Physicians and Patients


Interviews with 19 endocrinologists and primary care providers and 34 people with type 2 diabetes highlighted both of these groups’ views on peoples’ difficulty in achieving their diabetes treatment goals:

  • Healthcare professionals assumed responsibility for their patients’ inability to reach their treatment goals, they speculated their patients may feel guilt, frustration, or disappointment as a result of not reaching goals, and they felt many people did not fully understand the consequences of diabetes.
  • People with diabetes blamed themselves for not being able to carry out treatment recommendations and for their lack of progress. Some speculated their healthcare professionals might feel disappointed in or frustrated by them.

Beverly, E. A., Ritholz, M. D., Brooks, K. M., Hultgren, B. A., Lee, Y., Abrahamson, M. J., & Weinger, K. (2012). A qualitative study of perceived responsibility and self-blame in type 2 diabetes: reflections of physicians and patients. Journal of general internal medicine, 27(9), 1180–1187.

Overcoming Weight Bias in the Management of Patients With Diabetes and Obesity


Weight bias from healthcare professionals can lead to lower quality of care for people with obesity and diabetes, which is of particular concern given the increased emphasis on body weight and obesity in diagnosing and treating people with diabetes. This may be mitigated by interventions aimed at supporting and empowering people with obesity and diabetes, such as:

  • Improved training and education around the complex causes of obesity
  • Encouraging the use of respectful language when discussing body weight
  • Concerted challenges to negative weight-based stereotypes in the clinical settings

Puhl, R. M., Phelan, S. M., Nadglowski, J., & Kyle, T. K. (2016). Overcoming Weight Bias in the Management of Patients With Diabetes and Obesity. Clinical diabetes : a publication of the American Diabetes Association, 34(1), 44–50.

Reducing the Stigma of Diabetes in Medical Education: A Contact-Based Educational Approach


Researchers evaluated the impact of a contact-based education patient panel in an Endocrine and Metabolism course on second-year medical students’ diabetes attitudes and diabetes stigma. Though a third of the medical students showed signs of stigma toward people with diabetes prior to the panel, the one-time, contact-based intervention improved students’ attitudes toward diabetes, including an increase in empathy and a better understanding of the disease.

Beverly, E. A., Guseman, E. H., Jensen, L. L., & Fredricks, T. R. (2019). Reducing the Stigma of Diabetes in Medical Education: A Contact-Based Educational Approach. Clinical diabetes : a publication of the American Diabetes Association, 37(2), 108–115.