One of the toughest topics to raise with a patient is weight, but it is now becoming more critical than ever to bring up the subject during a patient encounter. We all know from a medical standpoint about the obesity crisis in America in both the adult and pediatric populations.
The bottom line is that obesity is killing us; we see the secondary effects of this condition across all fields of medicine. One can see how significant the issue is by typing into Google the word “obesity.” You get tens of millions of results. Clearly, this is not an issue we can avoid discussing with our patients.
We clinicians do not always have the time to address weight in a short office visit with a patient, but what we can do is at least have a list of nutritionists, a handout of a healthy lifestyle plan, patient-education forms explaining a well-balanced diet, and other such materials ready to pass along to patients.
If there is a weight-loss program that you like and that you know works—one that promotes a sensible diet—then have an informational pamphlet, or an outline of the program available to hand to the patient, along with a contact telephone number to call to find out more.
As clinicians we need to remember that we are health-care advocates for our patients, and we cannot sweep this crucial issue under the rug. You do not have to spend an hour trying to map out meal plans with patients, but simply giving them some guidance and letting them know that obesity will harm their health may be enough to encourage them to make a choice to live a healthier lifestyle.
Just telling the patient to go and lose weight rarely works, if there is not some guidance behind the comment. When patients leave at the end of the appointment with something tangible, they are much more likely to follow through with the suggestion.
We have to remember that even if the patient is in the office for another reason, we cannot avoid addressing his or her weight and lifestyle if these issues may be impeding the person’s health. The patient may be coming in because of an ear infection now, but next time it could be chest pain or worse in the emergency room. Take advantage of educating the patient in the office, even if you can’t do much more than encourage him or her to flip through the patient-education materials you have provided.
Keep in mind how busy everyone is and what information a patient may actually retain after the office visit. Make sure to write down at least some of the guidance for the patient, so he or she can remember your discussion.
These are not fun conversations to have, but when patients come back for a follow-up visit and their weight is down, their mood is better, their blood pressure is lower and their knees do not hurt as much, they will feel great — and so will you. Your patients will forget about the otitis media for which you were treating them, but will thank you for the nutritionist’s phone number or the patient-education handouts you gave them.
Do not be afraid to bring up the topic of obesity with your patients. The fact is, America’s health depends on us addressing the issue head-on. As the late former surgeon general C. Everett Koop, MD, once said, “You can’t talk of the dangers of snake poisoning and not mention snakes.”
Chad R. Stough, MPAS, PA-C, works as a physician assistant at West Atlanta Pediatrics in Dallas, Ga.