According to figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 35% of US adults are obese. One might assume that with statistics like these, physicians of patients who are overweight or obese would be discussing weight loss interventions. However, according to a new survey, this is not always the case. Investigators from the Obesity Action Coalition (OAC), The Obesity Society (TOS) and pharmaceutical company Eisai wanted to have a better understanding of the communication regarding weight loss between physicians and patients. They conducted a study consisting of two consumer surveys: one that questioned 1,009 adults and the other that surveyed 501 physicians.
The survey results revealed that all physicians said they counsel their overweight and obese patients about diet and exercise. However, only 56% of overweight or obese patients reported having ever discussed weight with their doctor, and only 4 out of 10 of these patients said they had been told to lose weight. In further detail, 92% of doctors said they talk about body mass index (BMI) with their overweight and obese patients, but 67% of patients said they rarely or never have that discussion. Only 17% of Americans know their BMI, according to the survey results, and the majority of patients do not understand what BMI means. Two-thirds of patients have a high BMI, but only around 50% realize they do, while 43% of patients believe they have a normal BMI, when only 36% do.
All physicians surveyed say they offer weight loss tools for overweight and obese patients, but only 37% of patients say they believe their physicians can help them lose weight. Of the patients surveyed, 20% reported they feel motivated after a discussion regarding weight loss with their doctors, while 41% said they feel hopeful. However, 20% of patients said they experience feelings of guilt after this discussion, while 18% said they feel embarrassed.
Joe Nadglowski, CEO and president of OAC, says that with obesity rates continuing to rise across the US, the relationship between physician and patient is “critically important” in the evaluation and treatment of patients who are overweight or obese. “The survey results provide tangible evidence supporting what we’ve been hearing from patients and physicians for years,” he says. “We need to educate patients to have the conversation about their weight and ask the right questions so they leave the doctor’s office feeling empowered to take steps toward managing their weight. We also need to encourage physicians to facilitate the weight discussion with their patients, as it is often a difficult topic to discuss.”
These findings have prompted Eisai to bring together a panel of experts from a variety of medical, psychological and behavioral organizations early next year, in order to review the survey results alongside related research. From this, an action plan will be developed that will outline the tools and interventions needed to encourage patients to have better conversations with doctors regarding their weight. “In this last year alone, we’ve seen tremendous strides made in the way society talks and thinks about obesity. There’s been recognition of obesity as a disease and advances in medicine to help those struggling with obesity. However, the conversations happening in the exam room have yet to catch up,” says Francesca Dea, executive director of TOS. “Whether the root cause here is a lack of understanding, different personalities, the psychology of having these uncomfortable conversations or a combination of factors, the panel’s goal will help make physician-patient conversations more productive and ultimately help to improve the care provided to patients.”
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