Physicians need better education in how to treat obese patients

One in three Americans is obese, but doctors are often ill-prepared to treat the growing number of fat patients.

The healthcare system fails obese patients with its attitudes, equipment and common practices, according to a report in The New York Times. The problem gets even worse for the more than 15 million Americans who have extreme obesity, determined as a body mass index of 40 or more, who face a wide range of health issues, the newspaper said

Too often doctors don’t look beyond a patient’s weight and fail to diagnose health problems, attributing shortness of breath or hip or knee pain to a patient’s weight, the article said. Other difficulties includes scales and scanners, such as MRI machines, that are often not built to accommodate very heavy patients, surgeons who refuse to perform knee or hip replacements and drug doses not calibrated for patients’ weight.

“Physicians need better education, and they need a different attitude toward people who have obesity,” Louis J. Aronne, M.D., who specializes in obesity at Weill Cornell Medicine, told the newspaper. “They need to recognize that this is a disease like diabetes or any other disease they are treating people for.”

Aronne helped found the American Board of Obesity Medicine to certify doctors in the treatment of obesity and to serve as a resource for patients. He says he hears stories from patients all the time about doctors who fail to treat them. “Our patients say: ‘Nobody has ever treated me like I have a serious problem. They blow it off and tell me to go to Weight Watchers,’” he said.

Doctors need to show empathy for obese patients and use a whole-person approach to provide them with quality care. One study showed that nearly 70 percent of obese patients have experienced weight bias from a physician. The result is that many patients avoid medical care. Studies have found the consequences of so-called fat shaming of patients includes poor rapport, decreased respect, less time spent in appointments and avoidance of some health screenings.