Author ORCID Identifier

Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Social Work


Social Work

First Advisor

Dr. Kay Hoffman


Anti-fat bias and the resulting discriminatory behavior is widely documented and impacts almost every aspect of an obese person’s life, including healthcare/insurance, education, employment, interpersonal relationships, and protection under the law. This has serious psychological, social, physical health, and economic consequences for the obese person. The non-social work related literature provides an abundance of evidence that when obese people seek assistance from a helping professional, they are met with the same anti-fat bias and discrimination present in other areas of their lives.

Recognizing that anti-fat bias can lead to negative practice behaviors with obese patients and clients, many professional education programs have implemented curriculum modules and trainings focused on bias reduction. Unfortunately, there is little evidence regarding the existence of anti-fat bias among social work professionals and no evidence regarding whether social work education is including obesity and related issues in its curriculum.

Utilizing the Anti-fat Attitudes Test (AFAT), the Universal Measure of Bias-FAT (UMB-FAT), and researcher created inventories, this study surveyed 129 social work educators in Appalachia to explore whether they have an anti-fat bias, if they include issues related to fat in their courses, and if so, is curriculum inclusion adhering to the dominant biomedical discourse or taking a social justice oriented approach. Findings suggest that social work educators in Appalachia hold mostly positive attitudes toward fat individuals and when negative attitudes are present they are related to physical attractiveness and romantic attraction. The data also suggest that social work educators from the southern region of Appalachia hold more anti-fat bias than educators from other regions. The study indicates that social work educators feel that obesity and related issues are worthy of attention from the profession, but they are less convinced that they should be addressing the topic(s) in the courses they teach. Social work educators who do include obesity in their courses tend to focus on exposing students to foundational social justice knowledge and how to recognize oppression and discrimination but they do not prepare them to provide services for and advocate for obese clients. Regional differences in curriculum topics are discussed. Results from the study have important implications for professional social work education. Limitations of the study and areas for further research are considered.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

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Social Work Commons