Another growing field for doctors: obesity medicine

feet on scale weighing
A record number of doctors are seeking board certification in obesity medicine. (Rostislav_Sedlacek/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images)

A record number of physicians are seeking certification in obesity medicine, and it's a good thing, too, as new research indicates more than half of today’s American children will be obese by age 35.

A total of 724 physicians have applied to take the 2018 certification exam offered by the American Board of Obesity Medicine. That's more than a 22% increase from the previous year, the board announced

Over the past two years, more than 1,300 doctors have applied for the board certification, which indicates specialized knowledge in the practice of obesity medicine.

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“The certification process requires doctors to take initiative and learn about a complex disease that is often overlooked in exam rooms. In the end, this wave of interest means patients affected by obesity will have more access to quality care,” said Louis Aronne, M.D., ABOM board chairman and director of the Comprehensive Weight Control Center at Weill Cornell Medicine.

The announcement by the ABOM comes at the same time a Harvard University study indicates a dire need for more doctors to specialize in obesity care. If current trends continue, 57% of today’s American children will be obese by age 35, the study by researchers at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health projected. The study results were published yesterday in The New England Journal of Medicine.

Many of the doctors seeking certification in obesity medicine specialize in internal medicine (38%) and family medicine (30%), but the ABOM said candidates represent more than a dozen fields of medicine. Others seeking certification include doctors who specialize in endocrinology (7%), pediatrics (7%), obstetrics and gynecology (5%) and surgery (3%). The candidates taking the exam this year come from 48 states and include 27 physicians from Canada.

Obesity now affects nearly 35% of U.S. adults, and although doctors want to help patients lose weight, most have little or no training in weight management and nutrition. However, given the health risks from being overweight, some medical schools and health systems are doing more to teach medical students and doctors about nutrition.

It can be tough for patients who are overweight to visit a doctor’s office, which makes it all the more important for doctors to show empathy and use a whole-person approach to provide them with quality care. However, some patients say they avoid doctor visits because they've been fat-shamed by a physician in the past.

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