Are Doctors Addressing Weight with Patients?

doctors_weight_adviceWith doctors consistently ranking as one of the most trusted groups of professionals in the country, what message does it send when many of those doctors do not address excess weight with their obese patients? Two recent studies suggest that there is room for significant improvements in doctors addressing weight with their patients: both parents of obese children, and obese adults themselves, are often not being counseled about weight.

Few parents of overweight children recall ever being told by a doctor that their child was overweight. According to an analysis of national data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), only 22 percent of parents can recall being advised of their child’s excess weight. Researchers from the University Of North Carolina School Of Medicine performed a statistical analysis of the data from nearly 5000 children ages 2 to 15 years old that had a body mass index (BMI) at or above the 85th percentile. For the extent of the study from 1999 to 2008, only 22 percent of parents reported that a doctor or other health professional told them their child was overweight, but the percentage did increase over the decade. In 1999, less than 20% of parents recalled being advised of their child’s excess weight, and in 2008, this percentage had increased to almost 30%. Startlingly, 42 percent of the parents of very obese children were not able to remember a doctor telling them about their child’s obesity.

The reasons that healthcare providers are not communicating with parents about their children’s weight were not in the scope of this study; however, another study published in 2012 in the journal Obesity, found that the doctor’s weight may influence whether or not heavy patients are counseled. In a survey, overweight doctors revealed that they are less likely than other doctors to discuss weight control with their obese patients. As the first study illustrated, overall, primary care doctors are not doing a good job communicating about weight issues – with only about one-third of doctors of normal weight saying they talked to obese patients about weight loss. Less than 1 in 5 of the overweight doctors said they talked about weight loss with their obese patients. Why are primary care doctors not talking about weight? One reason is they lack the tools or confidence to have that discussion. When asked if they feel confident in their ability to talk to their patients about diet and exercise, about half of the normal-weight doctors said yes, and about 38 percent of the overweight doctors said yes. This study group was made up of 500 primary care physicians.

Related Reading:

The Canadian Obesity Network has taken a positive step towards helping primary care physicians become more comfortable speaking to patients about their weight. You can find information about their 5 A’s of Obesity Management here.

Another recent study showed that physicians, in general, share the weight-bias shown by the general population of the US.  You can read about that study here.

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