Physicians’ attitudes about obesity may affect patients’ success in losing weight

Published on February 19, 2014 at 7:31 AM · No Comments

Overweight and obese people who feel their physicians are judgmental of their size are more likely to try to shed pounds but are less likely to succeed, according to results of a study by Johns Hopkins researchers.

The findings, reported online last week in the journal Preventive Medicine, suggest that primary care doctors should lose the negative attitudes their patients can sense if the goal is to get patients with obesity to lose 10 percent or more of their body weight — an amount typically large enough to reduce blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes risk.

"Negative encounters can prompt a weight loss attempt, but our study shows they do not translate into success," says study leader Kimberly A. Gudzune, M.D., M.P.H., an assistant professor in the Division of General Internal Medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. "Ideally, we need to talk about weight loss without making patients feel they are being judged. It's a fine line to walk, but if we can do it with sensitivity, a lot of patients would benefit."

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force has recommended that health care providers counsel obese patients to lose weight, and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services now covers some behavioral counseling related to weight loss. But Gudzune and her team suspected the pervasiveness of negative provider attitudes and weight stigma may be limiting the effectiveness of advice from primary care providers for these patients.

To test that idea, the researchers conducted a national Internet-based survey of 600 adults with a body mass index of 25 or more who regularly see their primary care doctors. The participants were asked, "In the last 12 months, did you ever feel that this doctor judged you because of your weight?" Twenty one percent of participants said they believed they had been.

Further, 96 percent of those who felt judged did report attempting to lose weight in the previous year, compared to 84 percent who did not. But only 14 percent of those who felt judged and who also discussed weight loss with their doctor lost 10 percent or more of their body weight, while 20 percent who did not feel judged and also discussed shedding pounds lost a similar amount.

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