Physician: Heal Thyself! (and Set the Example)

In the last week an interesting study was published in Obesity online journal.  It examined the relationship between a provider’s body mass index (BMI) and his or her’s obesity counseling  behaviors and practices.  The study involved a questioniare given to more than 140,000 physicians.  Researchers found that physicians with normal BMIs were more likely to engage in activities that were focused on weight reduction and diet modification with their patients.  Physicians with normal BMIs were perceived as more confident when faced with opportunities to discuss weight loss.  Conversely, obese physicians typically avoided any weight loss related conversations with their patients.   Interestingly, the study showed that  overweight  physicians were more likely to have  weight loss counseling conversations with patients that they percevied to be more obese than themselves. 

As physicians, we are role models for our patients.  We must set the example for a  healthy lifestyle and risk modification.  Our patients look to us for guidance and an overweight caregiver has limited credibility when giving weight loss advice.  As providers, we must make sure that our risks for cardiovascular disease and other illnesses are modified in the same way in which we would like to counsel our patients.  This study highlights the fact that sometimes a physician’s own health status may be a barrier to the treatment of his/her  patient.  Additionally our patients rely on us to remain healthy and in good physical shape so that we are able to care for them optimally.   In short, we must practice what we preach.   It has been demonstrated many times over that health care costs are ultimately reduced through  preventative care.  In this day of escalating costs, it seems to me that prevention must  start with the health of the provider. 

As we enter February and recognize Heart Health month, I would challenge all physcians and other healthcare providers to take a hard look at your own risk for CV disease and begin to make lifestyle changes that can modify risk.  Use your efforts as an example for your patients and openly discuss the challenges that you face as you modify your own risk.  By relating to patients on a very personal level, we may have an even greater impact on their ability to change and reduce their individual risk.  Not to mention the fact that each of us will be healthier, happier, and ready for the next patient who walks thru our door.

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