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Motivation Is More Important Than Information At Reversing Obesity

I recently found my way to an interesting NPR podcast via a link from Dr. Ranit Mishori (@ranitmd) on Twitter. The host of the show interviewed a physician (Dr. Mishori), an obesity researcher (Sara Bleich), and a family nurse practitioner (Eileen O’Grady) about how healthcare providers are trying (or not trying) to help patients manage their weight. Several patients and practitioners called in to participate.

First of all, I found it intriguing that research has shown that the BMI of the treating physician has a significant impact on whether he or she is willing to counsel a patient about weight loss. Normal weight physicians (those with a BMI under 25) were more likely to bring up the subject (and follow through with weight loss and exercise planning with their patients) than were physicians who were overweight or obese. Sara Bleich believes that this is because overweight and obese physicians either don’t recognize the problem in others who have similar body types, or that their personal shame about their weight makes them feel that they don’t have the right to give advice since they don’t practice what they preach. While 60% of Americans are either overweight or obese, 50% of physicians are also in those categories.

Although it’s not entirely surprising that overweight/obese physicians feel as they do, it made me wonder what other personal conditions could be influencing evidence-based patient care. Is a physician with high blood pressure less apt to encourage salt restriction or medication adherence? What about depression, smoking cessation, or erectile dysfunction? Are there certain personal diseases or conditions that impair proper care and treatment in others?

Several callers recounted negative experiences with physicians where they were “read the Riot Act” about their weight. One overweight woman said she handled this by simply avoiding going to the doctor at all, and another obese man said his doctor made him cry. However, the man went on to lose 175 pounds through diet and exercise modifications and said that the “tough love” was just what he needed to galvanize him into action.

Dr. Mishori felt that the “Riot Act” approach was rarely helpful and usually alienated patients. She advocated a more nuanced and sensitive approach that takes into account a patient’s social and financial situation. She explained that there’s no use advocating personal training sessions to a person on food stamps. Physicians need to be more sensitive to patients’ living conditions and physical abilities.

In the end, I felt that nurse practitioner Eileen O’Grady contributed some helpful observations – she argued that the rate-limiting factor in reversing obesity is not information, but motivation. Most patients know what they “should do” but just don’t have the motivation to start, and keep at it till they achieve a healthy weight. Ms. O’Grady devoted her practice to weight loss coaching by phone, and she believes that telephones have one big advantage over in-person visits: patients are more likely to be honest when there is no direct eye contact with their provider. Her secret to success, beyond a non-judgmental therapeutic environment, is setting small, attainable goals. She says that if she doesn’t believe the patient has at least a 70% chance of success, they should not set that particular goal.

Starting goals may be as simple as “finding a workout outfit that fits.” As the patient grows in confidence with their successes, larger, broader goals may be set. Weight loss coaching and intensive group therapy may be the most motivating strategy that we have to help Americans shed unwanted pounds. Apparently, the USPS Task Force agrees, as they recommend “intensive, multicomponent behavioral interventions”  for those who screen positive for obesity in their doctors’ offices.

I think it’s unfortunate that most doctors feel that they “simply don’t have time to counsel patients about obesity.” Diet and exercise are the two most powerful medical tools we have to combat many chronic diseases. What else is so important that it’s taking away our time focusing on the “elephant in the room?”  Pills are not the way forward in obesity treatment – and we should have the courage to admit it and do better with confronting this problem head-on in our offices, and also in our own lives.

Study Shows That Processed And Unprocessed Meats Pose A Diabetes Risk

Red Meat! by ThisParticularGreg via Flickr and a Creative Commons license

There’s a strong association between daily servings of red meat, especially processed meat, and a nearly 20% increased risk of type 2 diabetes, researchers found.

Replacing red meat with healthier proteins, such as low-fat dairy, nuts, or whole grains, can significantly lower the risk, according to a study was published online at the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Researchers reviewed questionnaire responses from 37,083 men followed for 20 years in the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study, from 79,570 women followed for 28 years in the Nurses’ Health Study I, and from 87,504 women followed for 14 years in the Nurses’ Health Study II. Diet was assessed by validated food-frequency questionnaires, and data were updated every four years. Diabetes was confirmed Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at ACP Internist*

Do You Know What Metabolic Syndrome Is?

People with metabolic syndrome are twice as likely to develop heart disease, and five times as likely to develop diabetes, as those who don’t have metabolic syndrome. But many people are not yet familiar with this relatively new term. Do you know what metabolic syndrome is?

OECD Country Populations with a BMI > 30 (1996-200

OECD Country Populations with a BMI > 30 (1996-2003)

Metabolic syndrome is the combination of several medical problems associated with morbid obesity. In addition to obesity, these conditions include: Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Columbia University Department of Surgery Blog*

Curing Type 2 Diabetes: Surgical Vs. Non-Surgical Weight Loss

Science Translational Medicine

Science Translational Medicine

The April 27, 2011 issue of Science Translational Medicine included a study titled “Differential Metabolic Impact of Gastric Bypass Surgery Versus Dietary Intervention in Obese Diabetic Subjects Despite Identical Weight Loss.

Melissa Bagloo, MD, Assistant Professor of Clinical Surgery at the Center for Metabolic and Weight Loss Surgery, NYP/Columbia, explains the context and importance of this study.

Q: What did this study find?

Dr. Bagloo: For years, surgeons have observed that gastric bypass surgery cures diabetes in over 80% of patients with diabetes. This improvement in blood sugar levels happens almost immediately after surgery, and far before any significant weight loss occurs. What’s more, studies have found that when patients lose the same amount of weight through diet as other patients lose after surgery, those who had surgery experience significantly better improvement in their diabetes than those who lost weight non-surgically. So we know surgery dramatically improves or resolves diabetes, but we do not know why this happens.

This recent study in Science Translational Medicine found an important clue as to why this effect may occur. The researchers found that Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Columbia University Department of Surgery Blog*

Physicians Who Exercise Are More Likely To Encourage Patients To Follow Suit

Active, healthy medical students are more likely to prescribe physical activity to patients, according to research presented at a meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine.

A research team assessed objective markers of cardiometabolic health, including cardiorespiratory fitness and attitudes on physical activity counseling, in 577 freshman medical students in Colombia from 2005 to 2010. Students’ health and fitness were measured by waist circumference, body mass index, fasting glucose levels and lipid profiles, in addition to the 20-meter shuttle run test.

Attitudes toward physical activity counseling were gauged through students’ answers to “How relevant do you think it will be in your future medical practice to counsel your patients on physical activity?” and “I will have the ability to counsel my patients more credibly and effectively if I am physically active.” Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at ACP Internist*

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Latest Book Reviews

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The Spirit Of The Place: Samuel Shem’s New Book May Depress You

When I was in medical school I read Samuel Shem s House Of God as a right of passage. At the time I found it to be a cynical yet eerily accurate portrayal of the underbelly of academic medicine. I gained comfort from its gallows humor and it made me…

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I am hesitant to review diet books because they are so often a tangled mess of fact and fiction. Teasing out their truth from falsehood is about as exhausting as delousing a long-haired elementary school student. However after being approached by the authors’ PR agency with the promise of a…

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