UK Hospital Staff Wear Fat Suits to Better Understand Obese Patients

One thousand people at hospital in the UK are being trained in a program that involves wearing a special bariatric suit.


Multiple studies have found that medical professionals are often unkind to fat patients. That is, of course, a spectacular failure in upholding the primum non nocere oath by which heath care workers swear. But at Peterborough City Hospital, the thinking is that if there's an uptick in obese patients, it's important to know what you're dealing with. Moving and handling trainer Rolf Stobbart tells BBC News: "Having the staff prepared — and pre-prepared — with the knowledge of dealing with a bariatric patient, it's not different techniques, it's techniques we already use, but in a different format."

The £1,000 suit was donated to the hospital by the charity Friends of Peterborough Hospital.

When worn by staff it is designed to give them the proportions of a 40-stone (254kg) person and restrict their movement.

The suit weighs about 13 lbs., but when donning it, a person can feel a decrease in mobility and have trouble breathing. It's sure to be eye-opening for health care workers who might not even realize that seemingly simple things — lying flat, getting comfortable in a chair, having blood pressure taken — can become complicated or difficult for a person carrying more weight. In October, there was a guidance published in the UK, urging doctors to be "respectful" and "non-blaming" of obese patients. This "fat suit" program — which is only in one hospital at the moment — seems like a good start. The suit itself was a charitable donation, but it would be amazing to see them in hospitals all over the UK — and the US as well.

As Stobbart says, the training helps with "taking the patient's dignity into consideration." You could certainly argue that dignity is necessary for the healing process.



This seems to be a common theme, people trying to gain empathy for a disadvantaged group by literally putting themselves in their shoes. Being poor for a day, dressing up in a fat suit, disguising yourself as a different ethnicity, wearing blindfolds, going around in a wheelchair, etc.

I find all these empathy experiments pretty useless, insulting, and often more about creating a good story or TV moment than truly understanding a different group of people.

If you want to understand what it's like to be fat or poor or a minority or disabled or any life that isn't yours, how about you talk to some people who experience that life on a daily basis. Talk to them and really listen to them.

I have learned so much about empathy and what it's like living with different kinds of discrimination and hardship from reading articles written on groupthink, from people just talking about their daily lives in an open, honest, eloquent and heartfelt manner.

So dear humanity at large: stop trying to play dressup as your favorite oppressed minority and try talking to some actual people.