ATLANTA – Next time you go for a checkup, don’t be surprised if your doctor gets on your case about your weight.
The medical profession has issued new guidelines for fighting the nation’s obesity epidemic, and they urge physicians to be a lot more aggressive about helping patients drop those extra pounds.
Doctors should calculate your body mass index, a weight-to-height ratio. And if you need to lose weight, they should come up with a plan and send you for counseling.
“We recognize that telling patients to lose weight is not enough,” said Dr. Donna Ryan, co-chair of the guidelines committee.
Insurance help, too
The good news? By next year, most insurance companies are expected to cover counseling and other obesity treatments, following in the steps of the Medicare program, which began paying for one-on-one help last year.
More than a third of U.S. adults are obese, and that’s been the case since the middle of the last decade. Officials define someone with a BMI of 30 or higher as obese. A 5-foot-9 person would be obese at 203 pounds.
Doctors are well aware that excess weight can trigger diabetes and lead to heart disease and other health problems. Yet surveys have shown that only about a third of obese patients recall their doctor talking to them about their BMI or counseling them about weight loss.
The guidelines were released this week by a group of medical organizations that include the American Heart Association, the American College of Cardiology and the Obesity Society.
Seen as overdue
Diane LeBlanc said they are overdue.
More than year ago, the Baton Rouge, La., woman sat down with her longtime family doctor to talk about her weight and get a referral for some kind of help. She said the doctor smiled and told her: “There’s a lot of programs out there. But really, you just have to eat less.”
“It just devastated me,” LeBlanc recalled. “He was saying, ‘It’s all in your mind.’ I was thinking, ‘If I could do that, don’t you think I would have done it by now?’ ”
She changed doctors and has lost 40 pounds from her 5-foot-4 frame since May after getting into an intensive Pennington weight-loss program that includes counseling sessions.
Doctors “need to get the message,” LeBlanc said. “Just telling someone you need to push the plate away is not going to work for everyone.”
Most doctors have little training in how to help their obese patients, other than telling them it’s a problem and they need to do something about it.
“I feel for these guys,” said Dr. Tim Church, a researcher at Louisiana State University’s Pennington Biomedical Research Center. “They have patients who come in and ask them about the latest fad diet. They’re not trained in this stuff, and they’re not comfortable” recommending particular diets or weight-loss plans.