FRIDAY, June 7 (HealthDay News) -- Overweight and obese patients
prefer getting advice on weight loss from doctors who are also
overweight or obese, a new study shows.
"In general, heavier patients trust their doctors, but they more strongly trust dietary advice from overweight doctors," said study leader Sara Bleich, an associate professor of health policy and management at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, in Baltimore.
The research is published online in the June issue of the
Bleich and her team surveyed 600 overweight and obese patients
in April 2012. Patients reported their height and weight, and
described their primary care doctor as normal weight, overweight or
About 69 percent of adult Americans are overweight or obese,
according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and
The patients -- about half of whom were between 40 and 64 years
old -- rated the level of overall trust they had in their doctors
on a scale of 0 to 10, with 10 being the highest. They also rated
their trust in their doctors' diet advice on the same scale, and
reported whether they felt judged by their doctor about their
Patients all reported a relatively high trust level, regardless
of their doctors' weight. Normal-weight doctors averaged a score of
8.6, overweight 8.3 and obese 8.2.
When it came to trusting diet advice, however, the doctors'
weight status mattered. Although 77 percent of those seeing a
normal-weight doctor trusted the diet advice, 87 percent of those
seeing an overweight doctor trusted the advice, as did 82 percent
of those seeing an obese doctor.
Patients, however, were more than twice as likely to feel judged
about their weight issues when their doctor was obese compared to
normal weight: 32 percent of those who saw an obese doctor said
they felt judged, while just 17 percent of those who saw an
overweight doctor and 14 percent of those seeing a normal-weight
doctor felt judged.
Bleich's findings follow a report published last month in which
researchers found that obese patients often "doctor shop" because,
they said, they were made to feel uncomfortable about their weight
during office visits.
Bleich's research didn't delve into reasons for feeling judged,
but she said obese doctors could feel stigmatized themselves and
have negative attitudes about excess weight.
As for patients trusting diet advice more from an overweight
doctor, Bleich speculated that "it has to do with this shared
identity." Patients may think an overweight or obese doctor knows
what they are going through.
"There could be any number of possible explanations" for the findings, said Richard Street, professor of communications at Texas A&M University, who conducts research on patient-doctor communication.
What the research found, he said, is a link between weight
status of the patient and the doctor and their trust level. "In a
study like this, there is no causal relationship tested," he
The findings, however, are the opposite of what one physician
who sees overweight patients said he observes.
Dr. Peter Galier, a doctor at the UCLA Medical Center in Santa
Monica, Calif., said his patients often tell him they don't have
faith in dietary advice from an overweight doctor.
A doctor in the best position to gain his patient's trust in
diet advice, Galier said, might be a doctor who is now normal
weight but has overcome a weight issue. Galier is normal weight,
and when he initially counsels patients about weight, he said, some
look at him as if to ask what he would know about weight
Then he shares with patients that he has lost a substantial
amount of weight, and continues to have ups and down. "I'll get
more attention from patients when I tell them I know [from
experience] that it's hard," he said.
Because overweight doctors may not be comfortable talking about
weight loss, patients may have to start the conversation, Bleich
said. "Ask for help," she said, including a referral to a dietitian
To learn more about talking with your doctor, visit the
U.S. National Institutes of Health.
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