Obesity in Medical School: Put It on the List

An internal medicine physician in training recently told us, “Honestly, I don’t have much sympathy for patients with obesity.” This bit of candor brings to life the need for training on obesity in medical school. James Colbert and Sushrut Jangi offer a detailed description of this need in the New England Journal of Medicine this week. They say:

The front lines of the obesity epidemic often lie in a primary care doctor’s office. But most primary care providers are overworked, and their attention is focused on pharmacologically treatable conditions, such as hypertension and diabetes. Obesity is often relegated to the bottom of the problem list: there are no wonder drugs, no useful biomarkers that define or predict prognosis, and no standard protocol that works for every patient.

Obesity requires a multidisciplinary approach and, frankly, a system that makes it financially feasible for primary care physicians to engage with patients on this complex subject. Right now, most physicians and patients avoid the subject. Physicians who actually treat obesity are often compelled to do so on a self-pay basis. Most third parties will only pay for treating diseases that result from obesity, not for treating obesity itself.

The result of this neglect is a problem we can no longer ignore because of its magnitude. Better late than never, the American Medical Association says obesity really is a chronic disease that we must treat. And thus we have NEJM and others expounding on what’s needed to equip physicians to do it.


Click here to read more in Time and here to read the editorial in NEJM.

Medical Students, photograph © Sydney Uni / flickr

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