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Checkup: Overweight Docs Less Likely to Advise Weight-Loss

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Air date: February 19, 2012

Host: Jeremy Shere, PhD

Check Up Healthcare Policy & Public Health Men's & Women's Health Nutrition and Exercise Patient Care
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So letís say youíre a primary care doctor, and a big part of your job is counseling patients about weight loss. Lots of your patients could stand to lose a few pounds; some need to lose a lot. Now, should it, or does it matter, how much you weigh?

Thatís what Johns Hopkins public health researcher Sara Bleich wanted to know. So she surveyed around 500 docs.

"And the one sentence synopsis of what we found is that basically if youíre a normal weight doc and we compare you to an overweight or obese physician, the normal weight docs are more likely to provide recommended obesity care and theyíre more to report feeling comfortable doing so."

And if youíre an overweight or obese doctor, youíre less likely to counsel obesity care. Maybe because if youíre heavy, you donít feel confident advising patients about weight. Or, maybe you donít see being overweight as a problem in the first place.

"Itís reasonable that if a patient walks into a doctorís office and that patient looks like the doctor and the doctor says to himself, 'well, I donít have a problem with my weight, therefore the patient doesnít have a problem.'"

But, of course, the patient does have a problem, as does the doc. And as do we all. Because, for one thing, itís worrisome that doctors are providing different levels of care based on their weight. And itís even more troubling that most doctors, whatever they weight, arenít very good about diagnosing obesity. One solution, Bleich says, is to focus on doctorsí wellbeing.

"We know that docs generally have higher rates of depression, substance abuse and stress in general, and so if we can think about ways of improving their wellbeing by targeting those areas and improving diet and physical activity, that may have the indirect effect of improving the care they provide their patients."

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