Diet Advice From a Fat Doctor? Not Likely

A new study shows that medical doctors who are overweight are less likely to give out weight loss advice than doctors in the “normal” weight range.  Is this a case of the pot not wanting the kettle to call it black?

I’ve been mulling this research for a few days now.  I think overweight doctors doling out fitness and diet advice would actually be more likely to get through to a patient.  They understand, perhaps more than a normal-weight doctor, how to approach someone who is overweight in a way that will cause the person to actually listen.  Also, as a Pilates instructor who has struggled a bit with my own weight, I know my clients appreciate that I am “one of them.”  They know I speak with compassion and in the spirit of helping, never with condescension.

The numbers in the study, published in the journal Obesity, are surprising.  30% of doctors with a BMI of 25 or less would recommend diet and exercise programs while only 18% of doctors with a BMI above 25 would recommend it.  That’s a substantial difference, but the scarier part of the study for me is that the more overweight doctors are also more likely to prescribe pills for weight loss.

Even more startling to me: 93% of doctors would only diagnose obesity in their patients if the patient’s weight was greater than their own.  Wow!  So how many doctors are overweight?  According to the study, 53% of docs are overweight or obese, only 11% lower than the general population.

So, the overweight doctor won’t talk about fitness or healthy eating and is instead more likely to prescribe a pill.  Eesh.

This study highlights so many problems for me.  Doctors struggle almost as hard as everyone else with weight control despite the fact they have a lot more information to draw from.  It also shows a pretty big flaw in the doctor/patient relationship … that personal bias can affect patient health.  Some of the doctors who didn’t speak up could possibly have saved their patients personal calamity, even prevented an early death.

I firmly believe in obesity training for doctors.  I believe a general practitioner should have a medically-trained personal trainer and a registered dietitian on staff.  The more studies like this that we do, and the more information that gets out there, the healthier we’ll all be.

Do you have an overweight doctor?  Did you ever get diet or fitness advice from your doc, overweight or not?  (I haven’t … ) Do you think the medical community needs to do more obesity training?