Medical Express

ISSN (print): 2318-8111

ISSN (online): 2358-0429

Issue: 4.6 - 7 Articles

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Kain ZN. How to talk to the patient about obesity. MEDICALEXPRESS 2017;4(6):M170607



How to talk to the patient about obesity

Zeev N. Kain

University of California C Irvine Health Department of Anesthesiology & Perioperative Care, Orange, CA, USA



Talking about obesity can be a challenge fordoctors. It is known that obesity is a great cause ofmortality, worldwide. It leads to diabetes, a most deadly illness, and other conditions that can cause death.However, it also affects self-esteem and how people see themselves in the mirror. It can cause eating disorders and eventually become a very dangerous problem that could end in tragedy. Few patients, indeed few laypeople realize how deadly diabetes can be. Doctors should keep this in mind.

Because obesity damages perception, how peopleview and feel about themselves, it is often hard for doctorsto hit the right tact. And tact is a doctor’s best friend, mostespecially when talking to obese patients. It is important to make sure the person feels in friendly hands. Some doctors can be brash and tell the patient that they’reobese in the worst possible way, even using, perish the thought, the dreaded “fat” word.

It is important to use the correct language, and to talk to the patient gently and in the right way to make sure he doesn’t feel offended. Talking about the risksof overweight can be a very good way of making them understand the dangers of their dietary habits. Thereasons behind obesity can vary, but it is important that the person understand the meaning of it all.

To talk about obesity is a great a challenge, same as talking about other life-threatening diseases, because people react in different ways when life is at stake. The doctor has to evaluate the patient’s demeanor prior to getting into the subject: it is essential to know how and when to tell them. It is important not to shatter the self-esteem of the person and at the same time, to give them hope for a change and thereby save their lives.

Some patients may object that they’re not obese; a good idea might be to show them a graph or some other visual element on how to measure weight and its dangers. And never forget that very obese people might have a history of bullying and abuse. Often enough you, doctor, will be facing a patient in tears, and it will fallto you, doctor, the task of consoling them in the mostprofessional, yet heartwarming way. This does not come naturally to most people. When it happens, you should have thought about it in advance and learnt how to deal with it. I shall get back to this further down.

Calling in extra help might be important whentalking about obesity as a whole. A physician can bevery good at diagnosing but very bad when dealingwith feelings. Always consider referring the patient toa psychologist to help them boost their confidence andself-esteem; this might be a good idea, but also requirestact. Some people mistrust psychologists. So, you, thedoctor, should approach the “psychologist” theme with caution.

A nutritional expert may also be useful to aid the patient in the process of losing weight while helping themstay in a good mood and encouraging them to become a better version of themselves. Compared to “psychologist”,“nutritionist” tends to be an easier theme.

Tackling the problem of obesity is a great challenge,which is why people have to be informed. Teaching the patient about the dangers of their weight might actually encourage them to change their dietary habits.

As I have noted above, professional tact anda compassionate attitude when talking about sucha sensitive topic can be a challenge: this is why it isrecommended that some physicians should take classes on psychology to learn how to deal with such a difficult topic. It is far better to be prepared to talk about a patientabout obesity instead of waiting, unprepared, for thecoming of the perfect storm of a patient’s rage outside the door because you offended him/her by using thedreadful “fat” word.

All in all, the patient-doctor relationship 1 is veryimportant. That’s why it is pivotal for you, doctor, to build up trust with your patient, so patient can muster the will to tell you what’s wrong; at the same time, you, doctor, can talk to your patient more freely about how life-threatening overweight can be.

It may seem a simple-to-talk-about topic, but be verywary! Even in these days when “everything” can be said, many doctors are shy and bashful about it. It is important to address it in the best way possible. Be friendly, never try to intimidate or scare them, and make sure you educate them.

In summary, obesity is a difficult subject, but anecessary one. The right note is not easy to hit, but hit it you must. There is a best way to talk to the patient about it. Make it your mission to master the technique.



1. Kain ZN. The untold secret: how poor communication leads to medicalmalpractice. Assessed at on October 10, 2017