‘Beyond the Scale’: A Qualitative Exploration of the Impact of Weight Stigma Experienced by Patients With Obesity in General Practice

Fiona Quigley, Leona Ryan, Susie Birney, Michael Crotty

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Objective: Obesity is a complex, chronic, relapsing disease that requires an individualised approach to treatment. However, weight stigma (WS) experienced in healthcare settings poses a significant barrier to achieving person-centred care for obesity. Understanding the experiences of people living with obesity (PwO) can inform interventions to reduce WS and optimise patient outcomes. This study explores how patients with obesity perceive WS in general practice settings; its impact on their psychological well-being and health behaviours, and the patients suggestions for mitigating it. Methods: In-depth semistructured interviews were conducted with 11 PwO who had experienced WS in general practice settings in Ireland. The interviews were conducted online via Zoom between May and August 2023; interviews lasted between 31 and 63 min (M = 34.36 min). Interviews were audio-recorded, transcribed verbatim and analysed using inductive reflexive thematic analysis. Results: Three overarching themes specific to participants' experience of WS in general practice were generated: (1) shame, blame and ‘failure’; (2) eat less, move more—the go-to treatment; (3) worthiness tied to compliance. A fourth theme: (4) the desire for a considered approach, outlines the participants' suggestions for reducing WS by improving the quality of patient–provider interactions in general practice. Conclusion: The findings call for a paradigm shift in the management of obesity in general practice: emphasising training for GPs in weight-sensitive communication and promoting respectful, collaborative, and individualised care to reduce WS and improve outcomes for people with obesity. Patient or Public Contribution: PPI collaborators played an active and equal role in shaping the research, contributing to the development of the research questions, refining the interview schedule, identifying key themes in the data, and granting final approval to the submitted and published version of the study.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere14098
Pages (from-to)1-11
Number of pages12
JournalHealth Expectations
Issue number3
Early online date11 Jun 2024
Publication statusPublished online - 11 Jun 2024

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2024 The Author(s). Health Expectations published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

Data Access Statement

The data that support the findings of this study are available on request from the corresponding author. The data are not publicly available due to privacy or ethical restrictions.


  • general practice
  • obesity
  • patient-provider
  • qualitative
  • weight stigma


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