Treat BMI as a vital sign

Despite previous reports we've shared of physicians' difficulty in counseling patients to lose weight, a new study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine suggests that doctors' simply bringing the subject up can go a long way toward getting patients' weight down.

According to lead author Robert E. Post, MD, of Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, and colleagues, patients who were told by their doctors that they were overweight were eight times more likely to perceive themselves this way, compared with patients whose physicians said nothing. Obese patients were six times more likely to acknowledge being overweight if informed of the fact by a physician.

Further, overweight patients were eight times more likely, and obese patients five times more likely, to say they wanted to lose weight, and more than twice as likely to have attempted to do so if their physician broached the subject.

However, fewer than half of people with a body mass index (BMI) of 25 or more said their physician had talked to them about their weight.

One of the reasons overweight or obese patients may fail to recognize their own weight problems, noted researchers, is that BMI over 25 is increasingly becoming the norm, meaning that overweight patients look about the same as most other people they see. As for physicians, the team suspected that they declined to raise weight issues for fear of offending patients.

Thus, researchers recommended that physicians provide patients with a regular, matter-of-fact reality check regarding their weight. In a commentary accompanying the study, Dr. Robert B. Baron of the University of California, San Francisco, went so far as to suggest that doctors treat BMI as "a routine vital sign," which would be measured and communicated to patients at every visit.

To learn more:
- read the HealthDay News article in U.S. News & World Report
- see the piece in MedPage Today
- check out this story in the Wall Street Journal
- see the abstract from the Archives of Internal Medicine