Tied into yesterday’s post about what kind of care you want from your doctor, I remembered that Lisa from Lisa Johnson Fitness wrote a post a while back regarding whether or not an overweight doctor was likely to advise you about weight loss through organic means. I think this discussion is apropos, here:

A new study shows that medical doctors who are overweight are less likely to give out weight loss advice than doctors in the “normal” weight range. Is this a case of the pot not wanting the kettle to call it black?

I’ve been mulling this research for a few days now. I think overweight doctors doling out fitness and diet advice would actually be more likely to get through to a patient. They understand, perhaps more than a normal-weight doctor, how to approach someone who is overweight in a way that will cause the person to actually listen. Also, as a Pilates instructor who has struggled a bit with my own weight, I know my clients appreciate that I am “one of them.” They know I speak with compassion and in the spirit of helping, never with condescension.

The numbers in the study, published in the journal Obesity, are surprising. 30% of doctors with a BMI of 25 or less would recommend diet and exercise programs while only 18% of doctors with a BMI above 25 would recommend it. That’s a substantial difference, but the scarier part of the study for me is that the more overweight doctors are also more likely to prescribe pills for weight loss.

Even more startling to me: 93% of doctors would only diagnose obesity in their patients if the patient’s weight was greater than their own. Wow! So how many doctors are overweight? According to the study, 53% of docs are overweight or obese, only 11% lower than the general population. [source]

The Time Magazine article actually goes a bit more in depth with it:

It inspires confidence when a dentist has good teeth, or a hairstylist has a chic ‘do, or when the salesperson at a boutique has an immaculate sense of personal style. The same may be true of doctors who maintain a healthy weight — which may help explain why those who are overweight are less likely to broach the topic of weight loss with their patients.

In a study of 500 primary care physicians around the country, researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine found that a doctor’s own size influenced how he or she cared for patients with weight problems. Overweight or obese physicians were less likely to discuss weight loss with heavy patients: only 18% of these doctors discussed losing weight with their patients while 30% of normal weight physicians did.

What’s more, the researchers found that 93% of doctors diagnosed obesity in their patients only if they believed their own weight was equal to or less than that of their patients; only 7% of doctors who believed their weight exceeded that of their patients diagnosed obesity.


The study builds on earlier work that analyzed how doctors’ own smoking habits affected their advice to patients; there, too, researchers found that physicians who lit up were less likely to recommend smoking cessation for their smoking patients, most likely because of the hypocritical nature of their telling patients to quit while they continued to puff away themselves.

But the results also shed light on the complexities of the doctor-patient relationship, especially concerning obesity, and suggest that anti-obesity efforts that focus nearly exclusively on patients may be too one-sided. Indeed, doctors are just as heavy as the rest of Americans: the Johns Hopkins study found that 53% of the physicians were overweight or obese, which tracks with the 64% of U.S. adults who fall in the same categories. [source]

For me, the first thing that comes to mind is that the doctors – the people with all the resources, access and medical education – have an obesity rate that is only 11% less than the general population. Just makes me wonder whether they’ve even got the answers… or maybe the answer can’t be found in a prescription.

What are your thoughts? Where does your doctor fall in the spectrum?