COMPASS Research Centre

Applications for 2023-2024 are now closed.

Weight bias and experiences accessing medical care


Natalia Boven

A/Prof Barry Milne


Compass Research Centre

Project code: ART004

Project (Two positions)

Project Description: This project will analyse data from the New Zealand arm of the International Social Survey Programme (ISSP) module on Health and Healthcare. The key aim is to test whether satisfaction and confidence in the New Zealand health system is related to body mass index (BMI), a crude measure of body fat that is commonly used in both clinical and research settings. Previous qualitative research has demonstrated that larger individuals commonly report encountering weight bias when accessing healthcare both in Aotearoa New Zealand and internationally, which can lead to both inadequate care and patients delaying seeking healthcare. However, there is little quantitative research in this area in Aotearoa New Zealand. Depending on the availability of international data from this survey (which has been delayed by the Covid-19 pandemic) there may also be the opportunity to conduct some descriptive comparative analyses on weight stigma.

Scholar’s Work and Expectations: The scholar will conduct a literature review examining the relationship between body size and healthcare experiences. This should focus on survey measures that have been used in quantitative research in this area previously, and third variables which may influence the relationship between body size and healthcare experiences (e.g., age, gender, ethnicity). The scholar will then construct a scale from several items in the ISSP survey and use regression analyses (or another appropriate technique) to analyse whether there is a relationship between BMI and confidence in the health care system, controlling for potential confounding variables identified during the literature review. The scholar will summarise the findings in a brief report. If the summer scholar is highly motivated, there is the opportunity for the scholar to co-author an academic paper with the supervisors (with the scholar listed as first author) instead of producing a research report.

Required Skills/Pre-requisites: The scholar should be comfortable reading and summarising literature relating to weight bias and weight stigma. Basic statistical analysis skills would be an advantage.

Benefits to Scholar: The scholar will gain experience dealing with common research issues, including missing data and combining different items to create a scale, by analysing real survey data. The scholar will be given a high-level of support to build skills and gain confidence in conducting and reporting on basic statistical analyses. The scholar will also gain experience thinking through potential policy implications and the strengths and limitations of the research, which are important skills for post-graduate study.

Alignment to Taumata Teitei: This project will align to the Taumata Teitei principle of ‘Respect and Integrity’ by taking care to avoid perpetuating weight bias and weight stigma. While BMI will be used as the measure of body size in this project, as there are no other suitable measures available in the survey, the limitations of this measure will be considered throughout the research project. While there is some qualitative research suggesting that weight bias is creating care inequities, there is a paucity of quantitative research in this area in Aotearoa New Zealand to help substantiate this and motivate policy change. This study therefore aligns with the ‘Excellence’ principle by examining an issue which may be affecting the justness of our society.