GPs struggle to talk obesity with patients - research

Drive 18/05/2018
Photo: File.

Research from the University of Otago, Wellington suggests GPs fear that telling their patients they are overweight will offend them. 

Lesley Gray, lead researcher of Talking about Overweight and Obesity (TabOO) research group, argued that body mass doesn’t necessarily diagnose anything, as it doesn’t factor in exercise levels and diet.

“We know that there are health risks associated with increasing body mass… but that doesn’t mean the individual person in front of you happens to be a risk for any particular issue.”

The new research was conducted in order to identify communication strategies that GPs use to discuss weight and weight management.

Dr Cat Pause, fat studies researcher at Massey University, told RadioLIVE that the problem is primarily that doctors make unfair assumptions based on body mass alone. 

We live in a world that hates fatness and fat people.

She uses the example of Ragen Chastain, an American runner who became the heaviest person to ever complete a marathon. The Californian, who weighs around 130 kg, wanted to bring visibility to runners of different sizes.

“Most doctors find that as soon as they bring up the topic or as soon as they start classifying someone based on a BMP, often times that shuts down the kind of conversation and dialogue that a healthcare provider needs to have with their patient.”

Dr Pause believes the words “obese” and “obesity” are unhelpful in their negative connotation towards individuals. Instead, she and other researchers prefer to use the word “fat”.

Rather than address those explicitly about their BMI or weight, Dr Pause argues that doctors should be having conversations about healthy behaviours and risks with people of all sizes.

Society appreciates cultural sensitivity when speaking about vulnerable populations, explained Dr Pause.

“I don’t think it’s unreasonable to suggest the same thing to be said for fat people.”

Listen to the full interviews with Lesley Gray and Dr Cat Pause above.

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