Most of us realize the impact of our friends’ behaviors: smokers tend to hang out with other smokers, exercisers with other exercisers, Yankee fans with other Yankee fans. Like begets like.
When we surround ourselves with people who have similar habits, they validate our choices and we feel supported. If everyone around you is eating junk food, then it's easy for that to become the acceptable norm for you.
But what happens when the people we trust to keep us healthy — our doctors — are themselves unhealthy? Can we still trust them to do what’s best for us?
In a fascinating article published this winter, researchers questioned 500 primary care physicians to determine the impact of a physician's own body mass index (BMI, a measure of body fat) on obesity care. The results are thought-provoking: Overweight doctors were 40 percent less likely to counsel patients about weight loss and a striking 92 percent less likely to record a patient’s obesity in their notes.
With a third of our adult population overweight and another third obese, the likelihood that a significant portion of physicians will be overweight and/or won’t subscribe to a healthy lifestyle is substantial. Not only can this compromise their own health, but as the study above suggests, it can impact their patients' health as well.
So what can you do to get the best care possible?
No one wants to be told that they’re overweight or obese, so these are difficult topics for doctors to discuss with patients under the best of circumstances. Not surprisingly, the study also found that normal weight doctors felt more confident in their ability to discuss nutrition and lifestyle issues with their patients.
If your doctor is overweight and doesn’t talk to you about your weight, that doesn’t mean you need to get a new doctor. But it may mean that you need to help jump-start the conversation.
At your next checkup, make sure you talk about your BMI and lifestyle.
Knowing your weight and your BMI is just as important as knowing your other vital signs, such as blood pressure. Make sure that your physician calculates your BMI at your next visit and talks with you about what it means. If they don’t, then ask.
No matter your BMI, be sure to discuss healthy lifestyle choices, including diet, exercise and stress management. This is just as important as discussing any other medical concern. If your physician does not bring these issues up first, and it's difficult for you to do so, think about the following possibilities:
- Write your questions down ahead of time and bring the list with you.
- Let the nurse or healthcare provider who checks you in know that you have some questions for the doctor.
- Consider a second opinion with another physician.
Studies have shown that patients listen when their doctors talk to them about smoking. It matters. Doctors need to talk about diet and exercise. This matters, too. Go ahead, ask your doctor if she doesn't bring it up.
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