Can overweight doctors be trusted to treat obese patients?

by TMP Editor on January 31, 2012

If you need to lose weight and your doctor is overweight, chances are he or she won’t be much help. Most overweight people aren’t advised to lose weight by their doctors anyway. And fat doctors are unlikely to address the subject with their overweight patients.

Fat doctor study

Dentists with bad teeth wouldn’t be expected to have much confidence in proper oral care. Do the same conditions apply to physicians? To find out, researchers at Johns Hopkins University conducted a survey of 500 primary care physicians in the U.S.  The survey examined how much confidence the doctors had in themselves when it came to giving advice and winning the trust of obese patients. The type of obesity treatment prescribed by normal weight doctors vs. their overweight counterparts was also examined.

How fat are doctors?

It turns out U.S. doctors are just about as heavy as the rest of their fellow Americans. Of the respondents to the survey, 53 percent of the physicians were overweight or obese based on their body mass index (BMI), not too far off with the 64 percent of U.S. adults in the same categories. Only 18 percent of these fat doctors were likely to counsel weight loss with their heavy patients. Normal weight physicians weren’t much better—30 percent.

Anti-obesity drugs vs. diet and exercise

A doctor’s BMI also heavily influenced obesity diagnosis and treatment. Researchers found that 93 percent of doctors diagnosed obesity only if their patient weighed less than they did. The 7 percent of fat doctors who did diagnose obesity were nearly twice as likely than normal weight doctors to prescribe anti-obesity medications instead of more effective lifestyle changes such as diet and exercise. This may have been because normal weight doctors felt more credible about giving advice about diet and exercise than the fat doctors. Normal-weight doctors were also more likely to believe doctors should be good examples to their patients by maintaining a healthy weight and exercising regularly.

Healthy doctors, healthy patients

Doctors are notorious for not taking care of themselves and being bad patients. And the results of the Johns Hopkins study bring to light another battle in the war against obesity. Emphasizing healthy weight for physicians in medical school and in continuing education could go a long way in improving the health of the general population.

Source: TIME, CBS News, MedPage Today

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