Something that has been on my mind recently is obesity, specifically obesity in doctors. This may be because we cover obesity in a high percentage of our stories (1 in 3 Americans is obese, after all) or because I recently discovered that I gained ten pounds since moving to New York City. Either way, after watching Dr. Snyderman speak her mind on national television about how obese leaders are unfit to lead, I have been thinking: are patients less likely to trust doctors who are obese?
It is a valid concern because you expect people in other careers to match what they’re selling – dentists have good teeth, dermatologists have nice skin, personal shoppers should be stylish, and so on. With that reasoning, shouldn’t doctors be the perfect picture of health in areas of medicine that they can control? I’m not talking about doctors being sick with a cold or having asthma; I’m referring to doctors who make lifestyle choices that are clearly not healthy – being obese, smoking cigarettes, doing drugs, dinking alcohol, engaging in unprotected sex, etc. The easiest one of these to spot is obesity. Would you really listen to someone tell you to lose weight if he or she can’t seem to do the same for health reasons?
A study published in the journal Obesity from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Jan 2012 shows that obese doctors are less likely to talk to their patients about weight loss — 18% of obese doctors talked to their patients about weight whereas 32% of normal weight doctors covered the same topic. So doctors feel it too — doctors who are obese are well aware that they may come off as hypocritical if they are telling their patients to do something that they apparently have a difficult time with.
This is a difficult one for me because there is no clear solution – we clearly should not discriminate against doctors based on their physical attributes but when a doctor’s appearance is actually affecting patient’s health? Perhaps that’s a different story. Maybe we can encourage more healthy living habits to physicians – offer reduced admission to gyms, stock the hospital cafeteria with healthier foods and drinks, keep healthy snacks in the physician workrooms, encourage the use of stairs, etc. Perhaps then doctors and patients will both be more open to the discussion of losing weight for better health outcomes.
Joyce Ho is a medical student who blogs at the Global Health and Media Blog. She can be reached on Twitter @MedGlobalHealth.