The recently published Canadian ACTION study asked a very important question – if healthcare providers and patients recognize the negative impact obesity can have on health, why aren’t more people receiving effective treatment and successfully losing weight and keeping it off?
It’s not a simple question, but the survey did provide some insight as to what the answers might be. Here are three key takeaways.
Doctors recognize and understand obesity as a complex, chronic disease – but don’t know how to treat it as such.
With new research sprouting up constantly, 94% of health care providers agree that obesity is a chronic disease, and like other chronic diseases requires long term management. Even though doctors recognize the need for long term treatment, only 28% of people who were diagnosed by their doctors with obesity were asked to schedule a follow up appointment. And only 6% of doctors consider the current medical guidelines for treatment for weight loss and management as “very” or “extremely” effective. Unfortunately, many of these same doctors are still prescribing diet and exercise as the most effective treatment even though long term success is much more likely to happen with evidence based treatments such as behavioral therapy, pharmacotherapy and bariatric surgery.
People living with obesity think their weight is their sole responsibility.
Most people living with obesity state that it would be “extremely beneficial” to their health to lose weight and of those people, almost all of them report they know how to lose weight. Despite these promising responses, less than 10% of people living with obesity lost 10% or more of their body weight and successfully kept the weight off for a year or longer. Even with success rates this low, people living with obesity wait an average of over ten years before they first start talking to their health care professional about weight.
There is miscommunication and misunderstandings between doctors and patients living with obesity.
Doctors and patients agree that obesity has an impact on overall health, but that’s where the commonalities usually stop. 95% of people living with obesity are interested in losing weight, but over half of healthcare providers responded that their patients were not motivated to lose weight. This striking contrast could be due to a combination of weight bias, misperceptions, minimal training for providers and most notably a lack of communication between doctor and patient. Patients believe their weight is their fault and that they should not reach out for support; meanwhile, doctors fail to talk about obesity and weight loss in a way that resonates with their patients. Only about half of people living with obesity say their doctors have talked about weight loss with them, whereas over 70% of health care providers say they’ve discussed the topic.
So how can we fix this?
There isn’t an easy fix to obesity, but there are evidenced based tools that can help.
- Healthcare providers should receive continuing education and training on the topic. (And good news, over half of providers are asking for this!)
- Understand that your behaviors are your responsibility, but your weight is not your fault. Most people living with obesity need support to be successful, and treatment can be more complex than you think.
- Early intervention is best: people living with obesity who reported weight loss success talked with their providers an average of seven years sooner than those who had not lost any weight.
- Advocate! Let the provider know you are motivated to lose weight and improve your health.
- Communicate… even when it’s difficult. If your doctor doesn’t bring up your weight, know you can. Ask for more time if you need it and ask your physician about which evidence based treatment options might be right for you. The more you talk confidently and openly about tools for treatment, the more likely success will occur.
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