Thursday, November 10, 2011

Why Don't Doctors Talk about Weight?

I have often heard people complain that their doctor did not tell their spouse to lose weight. (While I could do a side blog on why it is that people have this complaint more about their spouse than themselves, I will pass on that aspect today.) The CDC reported that in a recent Disease Control and Prevention survey, only 42% of obese patients were advised by their health care providers to lose weight. Interestingly, those who WERE counseled to lose weight were more likely to be actively trying to do so.

Why don't doctors tackle this more often? Obviously, there are many reasons, but let me list the top ones that immediately come to mind.

1. TIME- Doctors are all frustrated with less and less time with our patients. Weight loss conversations are rarely brief (and often loaded with emotional baggage) so doctors may avoid the topic purely from lack of time.

2. FEELINGS- Doctors are human (mostly) too, and we don't want to insult or hurt people's feelings. No one seems to be offended by high cholesterol or blood pressure, but universally people are defensive and/or hurt when say they are overweight or obese. Certainly, our society has made fat a four letter word.

3. MIRRORS- If your doctor is overweight, he or she may consciously avoid discussions of weight (why can't you lose your weight, doc?) or subconsciously avoid the topic because of their own frustration with the issue.

4. EXPERTISE- Not all physicians receive equal training in nutrition, so we have different comfort levels in direct counseling. Having said that, know that we can refer to our wonderful colleagues- our registered dietitians- who specialize in nutrition.

So, on your next office visit, why not ask your doctor about your weight? I think the least stigmatized way is to ask about your BMI- your body mass index. What's a BMI? More on that tomorrow...

BOTTOM LINE: Obesity should not fall into the "don't ask, don't tell" category- ask your doctor if you are at a healthy weight!

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