Obesity diagnosis could depend on physician’s weight too!

Besides your own body mass index (BMI), obesity diagnosis could also depend on the weight of your physician, a new study has revealed.

The study led by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health examined the impact of physician BMI on obesity care and found that physicians with a normal BMI, as compared to overweight and obese physicians, were more likely to engage their obese patients in weight loss discussions and more likely to diagnose a patient as obese if they perceived the patient’s BMI met or exceed their own.

“Our findings indicate that physicians with normal BMI more frequently reported discussing weight loss with patients than overweight or obese physicians,” said Sara Bleich, PhD, lead author of the study and an assistant professor with the Bloomberg School’s Department of Health Policy and Management.

“Physicians with normal BMI also have greater confidence in their ability to provide diet and exercise counseling and perceive their weight loss advice as trustworthy when compared to overweight or obese physicians.

“In addition, obese physicians had greater confidence in prescribing weight loss medications and were more likely to report success in helping patients lose weight,” she explained.

Using a national cross-sectional survey of 500 primary care physicians, Bleich and colleagues from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine assessed the impact of physician BMI on obesity care, physician self-efficacy, perceptions of role modeling and perceptions of patient trust in weight loss advice.

Are Overweight Doctors a Problem for the Profession?: Robert M. Centor: Physicians Are Role Models
Until recently, I had not even thought about the idea of overweight or obese physicians. But, I believe this concept should not be viewed narrowly as only about physician weight and fitness. I believe that what we are considering here is the physician as a role model.

Unlike Charles Barkley or other pop icons who can choose not to adopt exemplary lifestyles, we have the responsibility to serve as role models for our patients. How can we recommend lifestyle changes to our patients if we do not believe in those changes strongly enough to apply them to ourselves?

Now, I understand that expecting physicians to control their weight and to exercise may seem draconian. However, for those who believe that this is good advice for patients, the failure to act personally on such advice is at best hypocritical and at worst disingenuous.

If we compare this to cigarette smoking (and I know I am stretching the comparison here), then I believe physicians have the discipline for success. Although some physicians still smoke, I can count on one hand the few that I know personally - and I probably know well over 1000 physicians.


Robert M. Centor

Physicians with a self-reported BMI below 25 kg/m2 were considered to be of normal weight and physicians reporting a BMI at or above 25 kg/m2 were considered overweight or obese.

“While our results suggest that obesity practices and beliefs differ by physician BMI, more research is need to understand the full impact of physician BMI on obesity care,” said the study’s authors.

Bleich added, “Physician self-efficacy to care for obese patients, regardless of their BMI, may be improved by targeting physician well-being and enhancing the quality of obesity-related training in medical school, residency or continuing medical education.”

The study has been published in Obesity.



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