AMA helping physicians broach the subject of obesity

The Association is issuing CME materials to show how to talk with patients about making positive lifestyle changes.

By Carolyne Krupa — Posted Nov. 16, 2011

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The patient depicted in the video is 50 pounds overweight, stressed and daunted by the task of trying to slim down.

It's a common scenario for physicians facing the medical consequences of patients' poor lifestyle choices. Research shows that doctors can influence patients to eat better and be more active, but they have to know how to broach the subject with patients.

The American Medical Association has released new continuing medical education tools to help doctors discuss weight with patients (link). The materials have been certified for AMA PRA Category 1 Credit and include two videos and a report.

They provide tips on how to talk with patients about making positive lifestyle changes for themselves and their children, how to overcome patient negativity and how to encourage patients to persevere.

"By using these tools, physicians will gain a better understanding of why patients make unhealthy decisions and will learn how to initiate conversations about healthy eating and physical activity," said AMA President Peter W. Carmel, MD. "These easy-to-use tools will give physicians the information they need to effectively promote healthy choices to their patients so that families can successfully adopt healthy lifestyles together."

About one-third of U.S. adults and 17% of children and adolescents are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"Despite these alarming figures, recent research shows that physicians often don't talk with their patients about weight management strategies or their lifestyle choices and behaviors," Carla B. Fick, PsyD, director of clinical services at Smart Love Family Services in Chicago, says in one of the CME videos.

A Feb. 28 Archives of Internal Medicine study found that 45% of overweight patients and 66% of obese patients said their physicians spoke with them about their weight (link). Patients whose doctors talked about weight were twice as likely to have tried to shed pounds during the past year.

Physicians may be reluctant to address the issue because they feel there's not enough time during patient visits or their training hasn't prepared them for such sensitive conversations, said Donald Hensrud, MD, chair of preventive, occupational and aerospace medicine at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. Patient attitudes also can be a deterrent.

"Some patients are just not interested," said Dr. Hensrud, who was not involved in producing the CME materials. "Some may have tried and haven't been successful or aren't optimistic about the likelihood of success."

Physicians should make lifestyle discussions part of their routine with patients and set a positive example by making healthy choices themselves, he said.

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