Research Findings , , , , , ,

U.S. obesity epidemic and patient-provider communication

More than two-thirds of adults (68 percent) in the United States are overweight or obese.

How does patient-provider communication relate to this statistic?

STOP (Strategies to Overcome and Prevent) Obesity Alliance recently commissioned a study that was conducted by Harris Interactive that surveyed 290 primary care physicians. They found that although 89 percent of primary care physicians recognize the importance of addressing obesity in their practice, 72 percent also report they do not have sufficient weight management resources at hand. This is in line with previous news stories that report that many physicians receive inadequate training on nutrition during medical school.

Another study, also conducted by Harris Interactive, found that although most adults realize being overweight or obese leads to poor health, only 39 percent report having been told they were obese by a health professional. And of those that were told they were overweight or obese, 66 percent said their physicians never discussed with them how they could lose weight.

The gap is apparent. Provider-patient communication seems to be failing in this area of importance and changes need to be made in order to combat the obesity epidemic in the United States. A white paper recently released by the Alliance outlines five recommendations to improve the treatment of obesity in primary care: 1) monitoring weight, health indicators and risk; 2) assessing patient motivation; 3) defining success; 4) increasing integration and care coordination; and 5) implementing electronic medical records.

However, all of these recommendations assume that physicians are communicating with their patients about the issue. What can health communication specialists recommend to increase dialogue among physicians and patients and make their conversation more productive in an age where physicians have only a limited amount of time in the exam room?