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Overweight GPs ‘less likely to talk about weight loss with obese patients’, study finds

Overweight GPs are less likely to initiate a weight-loss conversation with obese patients and more likely to offer them medication, say researchers.

In the first study to look at the effect of a doctor's BMI on their care for obese patients, US researchers found being overweight or obese significantly reduced GPs' perceived competence about dispensing lifestyle modification advice.

The study – published in the journal Obesity – looks at the results of a survey of 500 primary care doctors, and compared this with their BMI.

Of those who were obese or overweight (i.e. with a BMI of 25kg/m2 or more), only 37% said they felt competent giving dietary advice and only 38% said the same about exercise advice. This compared with 53% and 56% respectively in the normal BMI group.

Overweight or obese doctors were more likely to give patients obesity drugs, with 26% saying they felt competent prescribing them compared with only 18% of GPs with a normal BMI.

The probability of a GP recording a diagnosis of obesity or initiating a weight-loss conversation with their obese patients was higher when the doctor's perception of the patient's body weight met or exceeded their own personal body weight.

Dr Matthew Capehorn, a GP in Rotherham and clinical director of the National Obesity Forum, said the study showed that GPs were ‘only human' but it did raise questions about how lifestyle advice will be received by patients.

He said: ‘If the doctor is overweight or obese, this will be noticed by the patient and although they may be able to give good advice to the patient, how will it be received?'

‘We practice evidence-based medicine, and so we should not ignore this new study. Perhaps GPs in the UK should take this on board and strive for a healthier lifestyle, weight and body shape ourselves.'