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Overweight and Obese Health Providers Aren’t Taken Seriously

Cheryl Clark, for HealthLeaders Media, July 28, 2009

In the health reform debate, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has been talking a lot lately about personal responsibility. During a recent appearance on the Daily Show, she jokingly admonished host Jon Stewart to "have a lettuce sandwich" instead of a Snickers bar.

"There's personal responsibility in all of this," she said.

So why are so many health providers not in sync with her message? Far too many practitioners who are supposed to model good health habits and counsel their patients about getting to a healthy weight don't think their messages need apply to themselves.

That's the concern from a growing number of providers who worry that excess weight on the trusted healer may be one reason seriously overweight patients don't take seriously any advice to slim down. If the doctor or the nurse or the physician's assistant thinks it's okay to be that way, then it must be okay for the patient too.

One such physician who worries a great deal about the expanding girth of those in the health professions is Nick Yphantides, M.D., now consulting medical director for San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency.

In his new role, he speaks to and attends a lot of medical conferences. "And all around I see a disproportionate number of obese and overweight physicians. And to me, the rate of obesity among health professionals, subjectively, is at least a bad if not worse than in the general population," he says.

"You go to a hospital or an outpatient setting, and the first people you see are the nurses stuffed into scrubs, like 10 pounds of groceries in a 5-pound bag."

"We have to walk the walk and talk the talk," Yphantides said. "Unfortunately, in this area of fitness and weight, the majority of the time, we are saying one thing and doing another. And it really is unacceptable."

Yphantides is an evangelist on the subject because he too used to be morbidly obese, a self-proclaimed "board certified medical hypocrite" One day in 2001, he was trying to counsel an obese patient when he realized the absurdity.

He decided to prove that he could change, and send a message for his patients as well.

He took a leave from his then job directing a community clinic and launched a year-long campaign to tour the country to see baseball games in 50 stadiums, one in each state. Along the way, he absorbed a high protein liquid diet, exercised and lost enough weight to become a shadow of his former self. He shed 270 pounds.

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