The key to success in how to talk to patients is to make the discussion a collaborative effort
The statistics regarding excess weight are very clear, and they are putting your patients at risk for a wide range of chronic health issues. How to talk to patients about their weight is something every doctor must come to terms with for the health of their patients.
Although your patients may be aware of this, it does not necessarily mean they have reached a point where they are willing to make changes in their own life to improve their health and wellness. It can be difficult to start conversations with patients about their weight. However, with some careful planning and an engaging, open approach, you can start a dialogue with your patients about managing their weight.
Let’s take a look at some fast stats you can share with your patients, as well as some tips on how to best start that important conversation with your patients.
Statistics on weight and health
According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDKD), approximately 70% of American adults are overweight, with a body mass index (BMI) greater than 25. Of these, almost 40% are obese, with a body mass index greater than 30.1
As previously mentioned, people who are overweight or obese have an increased risk for developing a number of chronic health issues, including:
Furthermore, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) considers obesity to be a risk for increased severity of COVID-19.2
Your patient is not alone
Diving right into a discussion about your patient’s weight will almost certainly cause them to become defensive or shut down entirely.3 Instead, try a more indirect approach that isn’t specifically framed around your patient.
One good approach in how to talk to patients can be to acknowledge that they are not alone, particularly given current pandemic conditions: “Many of my patients have been struggling with stress during this pandemic. It’s been hard for me as well, but I found that taking a short walk for 10 minutes helps me feel like I have some control over my life.”
This acknowledges that your patient is not the only one having problems, and it opens the door for them to think of how they might better manage their weight via exercise.3
How to talk to patients: discuss, don’t lecture
None of us liked being lectured by our parents when we misplaced our backpack or forgot to unload the dishwasher. Even as adults, we tend to tune out people who lecture us, so it’s a safe bet that’s what your patients will do if you lecture them about their weight.
Instead, include your patients in any discussion about their weight, such as meal planning and preparation, portion sizing, healthy food substitution choices, and challenges they may face. In other words, make any discussion or weight loss plan a collaborative effort, shared by you and your patients.
Focus on goals, not pounds
Very little will discourage patients more quickly than a scale that just shows the same number, even if they have made a concerted effort at weight loss. It can be all too easy for patients to get discouraged and give up if they don’t see pounds drop off right away.
One way to overcome this is to provide patients with a tangible goal other than just a number on the scale. Perhaps there is a favorite outfit that your patient wants to wear to a special event, or a charity walk-a-thon they are hoping to do. Having these types of goals to work toward can make the weight loss progress more attainable, as the end result has a personal meaning for your patient.
“When your weight slips into an unhealthy range over time, the risk of degenerative disc disease increases by 30-79%,” writes Shawn Haseley, DC. “As discs compensate for the pressure of extra weight, they can become herniated … Dropping just a few pounds can make a big difference to your back. For every four pounds you lose, you remove 16 pounds of pressure from your spine. In one study, the risk of developing osteoarthritis dropped 50% with each 11-pound weight loss.”
Any discussion about weight with your patients can be fraught, as they are likely already aware of the connection between excess weight and chronic health issues. The key to success in how to talk to patients is to make the discussion a collaborative effort, in which patients feel as though they have equal partnership in any effort to get their weight under control.
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Obesity & Overweight Statistics. Reviewed September 2021. Accessed August 2022.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Underlying Medical Conditions Associated with Higher Risk for Severe COVID-19. Updated June 15, 2022. Accessed August 2022.
- Seaborg E. Advise and consent: Talking to obese patients about their weight. Endocrine News. Feb 2016. Accessed August 2022.