More docs address unhealthy lifestyles, but barriers remain

The push toward lifestyle medicine may be catching on, according to the results of a new national survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

According to the CDC report, 32 percent of patients who saw a doctor in 2010 were advised to continue or begin exercising, up from 22 percent in 2000. Recommendation rates were even higher, at 35 percent to 45 percent, for patients with chronic diseases. Further, 47 percent of obese patients were told by their doctors to exercise, versus 22 percent of healthy-weight adults. Physicians also dramatically increased advice to older adults to exercise, recommending workouts to 29 percent of patients 85 and older in 2010, up from 15 percent in 2000.

With the World Health Organization predicting that two-thirds of disease will stem from lifestyle choices by 2020, it makes sense for doctors to address harmful behaviors with patients before they get sick. However, some argue that our current medical system still places several barriers to better lifestyle medicine in physicians' way.

In particular, at a recent Lifestyle Medicine conference at Harvard, one speaker referred to the threat of lawsuits, should patients suffer heart attacks or other complications during recommended exercise, as an "elephant in the room," CommonHealth reported. However, even doctors who embrace lifestyle medicine point to time and reimbursement as the most prominent obstacles in discussing patients' habits.

"Time and payment, that combination is the big elephant in the room," Damian Folch, a Massachusetts general practitioner who records the amount patients exercise as a vital sign, told CommonHealth. "And that should get better with health reform."

In addition, separate research indicates that physicians who advise patients to eat better and lose weight may get their hopes up too high, MyHealthNewsDaily reported. According to the study, published Feb. 7 in the journal Family Practice, physicians predicted that more than half of the overweight or obese patients they counseled would succeed in losing weight or adding exercise, but only about a third actually made changes.

According to the study authors, patients with optimistic physicians may feel more confident to lose weight, though overconfident doctors may be less receptive to learning new techniques for counseling patients.

To learn more:
- see the post from NPR's CommonHealth blog
- read the article from H&HN
- check out the report from the CDC
- read the article from MyHealthNewsDaily