I heard a story on NPR awhile back that really made me think. It was about how patients say that doctors don’t spend enough time talking with them about losing weight. Some doctors apparently don’t broach the topic at all. One survey showed that a whopping two-thirds of doctors don’t discuss losing weight with their patients, and considering the high numbers of obesity in the country, that’s a lot of overweight people whose doctors avoid the subject altogether.
There are a lot of reasons doctors avoid the weight discussion, the story says. They don’t have the time. They aren’t really taught about weight-loss in med school. Or they’re afraid to bring up a sensitive subject that they themselves may be facing. But isn’t the avoidance of a real medical issue by a primary care physician a wee bit negligent of the patient’s best interests? Seriously: How are doctors not prepared for these types of conversations when they may have to deal with topics like hemorrhoids, irritable bowel syndrome and toe fungus? I mean, those aren’t exactly fun conversations either. As for the time issue, I’m sorry, that’s no excuse. It’s sad to me that a doctor can’t extend an appointment by a few minutes to inform a patient that he or she is at an unhealthy weight.
Yes, everyone knows you should be at a healthy weight. You could say that those who are overweight or obese know the health risks, and they know they should be at a healthy weight, so it shouldn’t take a doctor to state the obvious. But a lot of times people get complacent; they know they should lose weight but have been drifting along unmotivated to change. A medical professional—an authority figure—might be enough to help patients face the reality that they’ve been ignoring. Doctors need to worry less about hurt feelings and more about the real risks their patients might be facing. I don’t think a doctor needs to be a weight-loss coach, but he or she should certainly have the resources to guide patients to qualified nutritionists and experts who can help.
I know if I was at an unhealthy weight, I’d want my doctor to mention it. Would you? —Erin