By David Roddenberry
Despite the advancements in research, updated recommendations and guidelines for the general population, and a deeper understanding of the impact of poor lifestyle choices on our long term health, rates of overweight and obesity continue to be on the rise. Healthcare providers continue to struggle with supporting the overweight and obese population for any number of organizational and societal reasons. Here are five ways medical professionals can better support and engage their patients in weight loss:
Be informed. Few healthcare professionals receive formal training in weight loss, weight management or even nutrition. Fewer are aware of all of the tools and resources available to help their patients, which makes discussing the issue with patients even more difficult. Take the time to locate reputable dietitians, gyms, university programs, counseling options, support groups, or any other number of tools and resources that may be of help to your patients. Even better – partner with them! Providing resources rather than just making blanket recommendations helps your patients feel supported rather than judged.
Be realistic. This may come down to training again, but making recommendations for weight loss that are not realistic for your patients can serve to further the problem. They may feel they’ve failed yet another attempt, and be unwilling to return for additional support or advice. Take the time to find out one or two small changes a patient may be able to easily implement, and build on those successes. It’s also important to remember that even slight lifestyle changes and small amounts of weight loss lead to very positive changes in health outcomes.
Be aware of bias. And the impact your personal beliefs about obesity may have on your patients. While obesity is linked to many diseases and conditions, it’s not necessarily a causal factor of every illness. When your patient comes to you with a sore throat and fever, this is not the time to approach them about their weight or weight loss. It’s off-putting, and jeopardizes the trust your patient may have in your ability to guide them successfully through weight loss when they are ready. Put aside your beliefs that losing weight will fix all ills, and attend to the issue at hand.
Find out what motivates your patients. Most people are well aware of the long-term health outcomes of a poor lifestyle. They understand that years of abusing their bodies with food and a lack of exercise will eventually come back to haunt them, and telling them again is not going to motivate behavior change. Research has proven that shorter term incentives coupled with risk aversion are more effective motivators for weight loss and the adoption of other healthy behaviors. There’s an entire industry now built around this research – companies like HealthyWage, where dieters stand to lose their investment if they do not succeed, and win an additional cash prize when they do, are proving this to be true on a daily basis.
Be Empathetic. Most of all, be this. Understand that for many there are challenges beyond the mechanics of “eat less, move more” and that they will need more than the latest surgery or meal plan to be successful in the long-run. They will likely need multiple starts, a lot of guidance, and someone that will help them take control of an issue that has shamed and controlled them.
David Roddenberry is co-founder of HealthyWage, (https://www.healthywage.com/), the only company that pays Americans cash to lose weight while offering social and expert-based support, tools and resources, and goal-setting and tracking technologies to address our nation’s obesity epidemic and improve America’s collective health.
1. Phelan, S., Burgess, D., Yeazel, M., Hellerstedt, W., Griffin, J., & van Ryn, M. (2015). Impact of weight bias and stigma on quality of care and outcomes for patients with obesity. Obesity Reviews, 16(4), 319–326. http://doi.org/10.1111/obr.12266
2. Jay ,M., Kalet, A., Ark, T., McMacken, M., Messito, MJ., Richter, R., Schlair, S., Sherman, S., Zabar, S. and Gillespie, C. Physicians’ attitudes about obesity and their associations with competency and specialty: A cross-sectional study, 9(106). http://bmchealthservres.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1472-6963-9-106
3. “Obesity Treatment Overview.” Johns Hopkins Medicine. n.d. Web. 3 March 2015.
4. Volpp, K.G., John, L.K., Troxel, A.B., Norton, L., Fassbender, J., and Loewenstein, G., “Financial Incentive-based Approaches for Weight Loss: A Randomized Trial,” Journal of the American Medical Association, 300(22), 2631-2637 (2008).
5. Del Canale, S., Louis, DZ., Maio, V., Wang, X., Rossi, G., Hojat, M., Gonnella, JS. The relationship between physician empathy and disease complications: an empirical study of primary care physicians and their diabetic patients in Parma, Italy. Academic Medicine, 87(9), 1243-1249.