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Overweight Physicians Display Bias in Obesity Care

Cheryl Clark, for HealthLeaders Media, January 27, 2012

Bleich says that because this study found that the weight of one's doctor may impact care of overweight patients in that practice, there's a greater need to focus on interventions that improve physicians' health and sense of wellbeing. "We know physicians are in a high-stress job, have high divorce rates, high rates of substance abuse, and depression."

She suggested that electronic medical records could also play a role in reminding physicians to give patients an obesity or overweight diagnosis when different patterns of care would ensue.

"Simple technology changes could make it easier to improve the care that these patients receive, because having the diagnosis is the gateway to getting counseling and treatment to help maintain weight control," she says.

Among some of the results, the survey found:

  • Physicians with BMI scores indicating class 1 obesity, (between 30-34.9) 64% would initiate a conversation with a patient in that same weight category, but of normal BMI physicians, 72% would start that conversation. Among physicians with class 2 BMI weight status, (between 35-39.9) would.
  • For overweight patients, only 5.1 overweight physicians would initiate a conversation about weight loss, but 9.3% of normal weight physicians would begin that discussion with those patients. Likewise for obese patients with BMI between 30 and 34.9, 64% of obese physicians would suggest the need for the patient to lose weight, while among normal weight physicians, 72% would.
  • Among normal weight physicians, 72% and 73% said they should be role models for their patients in maintaining healthy weight and exercising regularly.  But among overweight and obese doctors, 56% and 57% said doctors should be role models.
  • Among normal weight physicians 53% and 56% said they feel competent about counseling patients about diet and about exercise. But among overweight or obese doctors, only 37% and 38% felt confident.
  • Among normal weight physicians, 4% said patients are more likely to trust weight loss advice from an overweight or obese doctor while 79% said patients would be less likely. When overweight and obese doctors were asked that question, 10% said that patients would be more likely to trust their advice while 69% said they would be less likely.
  • When normal BMI doctors were asked about the likelihood patients with weight problems would trust weight loss advice from a normal weight doctor, 75% said it was more likely and 6% said less likely. But when overweight or obese doctors asked about whether patients would trust normal weight doctors' advice, 64% said patients were more likely and 8% said less likely.

Cheryl Clark is senior quality editor and California correspondent for HealthLeaders Media. She is a member of the Association of Health Care Journalists.
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1 comments on "Overweight Physicians Display Bias in Obesity Care"


mparker7198 (1/31/2012 at 4:18 PM)
I am rather concerned about calculating whether a physician is overweight based on height and BMI alone. I work with surgeons, some of whom would fall into the overweight category, but this is because they lift weights... However, I do believe the "if the patient looks like me and I'm healthy, ergo, they must be health, too" belief is prevalent throughout society.