Not Much a Doctor Can Do for Obesity?

The options for evidence-based obesity care are growing faster now than at any time in recent memory. And in this context, it’s especially jarring to hear a physician say there’s not much a doctor can do for people with obesity. But this is what we heard recently:

When will we stop blaming doctors for what they fail to do about obesity and accept that they cannot reverse the epidemic? Primary care docs have a role but not enough support or time to spend on obesity while treating myriad other issues. Reversing obesity is more of a policy and societal challenge than a health care matter. Surgery and drugs can only do so much.

These comments hold some wisdom. It’s no more helpful to blame doctors who feel overwhelmed by the challenge of obesity than it is to blame the people who are living with it. Primary care is indisputably stressed by issues that leave little time for actually caring for patients. And no one — not even the smartest people working on this problem — can point to roaring success in reversing obesity.

While all that is true, simply writing off the present generation of people with obesity by saying “there’s only so much we can do” is wholly unacceptable. If for no other reason, it’s unacceptable because we will never prevent obesity in the next generation without addressing it in the current generation. Obesity is transmitted in families across generations. While most people living with obesity are not really ready to aggressively pursue treatment, people who are ready deserve a doctor who is ready.

Because the truth is that behavioral, pharmacological, and surgical options can do quite a lot when a patient is supported by health professionals who understand obesity as a complex, chronic disease. It takes considerable persistence with trial and error, but the results can be quite satisfying for professionals and patients alike.

Can’t never could, and can’t never will.

Click here for more information from the Obesity Action Coalition about how physicians can help with obesity, here for an overview of the specialty of obesity medicine, and here for more information about the American Board of Obesity Medicine.

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July 16, 2015