Can your primary care physician treat obesity? Probably not. Here’s what to do next.

Can your primary care physician treat obesity? Probably not. Here’s what to do next.

Can your primary care physician treat obesity? Probably not. Here’s what to do next.

Most MDs aren’t trained on the complexities related to excess weight. Frustrating? Yes. We do have some expert advice, though.

The Found Team
Last updated:
February 16, 2023
5 min read
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Put your hand in the air if you’ve had this experience: You go in for a checkup with your doctor, get on the scale, get your vitals checked, and are told, “You need to lose weight.” Oh, thank you, Dr. Obvious—I had no idea that I needed to drop some pounds. What’s more frustrating about this convo is that it tends to end right there. Are you given detailed advice and resources on how to lose weight? Are you encouraged to share your unique weight journey and what to do—based on your biology—to reach your goals?  

To be fair, it’s not that your MD doesn’t care. But often, they’re not equipped to give you the help you need. The fact is that less than one percent of doctors in the US are trained in obesity medicine. 

In a study published in BMC Medical Education that surveyed 141 medical schools, half of the schools that responded reported that obesity education was a low priority or not a priority at all. The study found that over four years of medical school, the curriculum offered only ten hours, on average, of obesity education. And in approximately 30 percent of the medical schools, there was little to no education in nutrition or behavioral interventions for patients with obesity. Meaning: Medical students might learn to tell you to eat right and move more, but that’s about it.

“Most doctors don't give helpful advice on weight loss because they don't know what to say. It's up to the patient to figure out the ‘how,’ says Acacia Parks, PhD, a behavioral science officer at Found. So all your PCP can really offer you is that blanket “You need to lose weight” statement. “And because physicians aren’t trained to discuss weight, they might launch into some judgmental commentary,” adds Found chief medical officer Rekha Kumar, MD. And that can feel confusing and frustrating. 

How to deal with weight stigma

Given these stats, it’s no wonder that 41 percent of people in a survey Found conducted said that they’ve felt shame or embarrassment when discussing their changing health and wellness with their primary care physician. Among millennials, that number jumped to 47 percent.

So how can you have a more meaningful appointment with your care provider? It may come down to you being your own best advocate. (Go you!) Here are some ideas on how to do that:

  1.  Do a little online digging into your options before your check up. So if your doctor isn’t up to speed on, say, lifestyle and prescription interventions, you can start the conversation. You can also discuss referrals to an obesity medicine specialist, endocrinologist, dietitian, or other pros that can help you. The reason is that your doctor might not ask the same questions about your experience with obesity the way they may address other conditions. 
  2.  Come ready with your questions, concerns and background info. Write them down in advance. Remember, you know your story best! We’ve all had that experience of going to the doctor and forgetting half of what we wanted to say until we’ve walked out the door. Some things to consider noting is when you began gaining excess weight, what you’ve done to try to lose the weight in the past, what hasn’t worked for you, and factors like stress, sleep problems and other lifestyle issues that may be affecting you.
  3.  Consider bringing a support person to your visit if you can. Patients may be treated differently—in a good way—when they have a buddy with them.
  4.  Know your rights as a patient. That is to say: You have the right to see your medical chart, end an appointment at any time, decline to be weighed, ask for a second opinion—or ask for whatever other care you may need (that’s their job as doctors, after all).  
  5.  Make a plan with your doc to make sure you’re both on the same page.
  6.  Take notes. Doctor's office “amnesia” is a thing—you think you’ve heard everything, and then it (poof) just leaves your head the moment you walk out of the exam room. Point being: Take notes or a voice memo of what your physician says, along with next steps.  
  7.  Don’t settle. If your current provider isn’t giving you the care and advice you need, or views obesity as a matter of willpower and not biology, then it’s OK to move along and find another MD. You deserve to be heard and helped. 

Get the care you need with Found 

Found’s providers are all trained in obesity medicine and understand the impact of weight bias in the doctor’s office. Empathy is part of care. With Found, so you can find the right weight care path and feel supported every step of the way.

About Found

Found is among the largest medically-supported weight care clinics in the country, serving more than 200,000 members to date. To start your journey with Found, take our quiz.

Published date:
February 16, 2023
Meet the author
The Found Team
The Found Team

Sources

  • Butsch, W.S., Kushner, R.F., Alford, S. et al. Low priority of obesity education leads to lack of medical students’ preparedness to effectively treat patients with obesity: results from the U.S. medical school obesity education curriculum benchmark study. BMC Med Educ20, 23 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12909-020-1925-z
  • Kathleen Bornhoeft (2018) Perceptions, Attitudes, and Behaviors of Primary Care Providers Toward Obesity Management: A Qualitative Study, Journal of Community Health Nursing, 35:3, 85-101, DOI: 10.1080/07370016.2018.1475792. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30024289/
  • Found Survey by OnePoll. Weight Loss Stigma. 2022. Blog Post. https://joinfound.com/blog/obesity-stigma-makes-it-difficult-to-get-support-survey-says
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