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The Effects of a Provider's Weight and Health Habits on Their Ability to Provide Patient Lifestyle Counseling

9 August 2013


Background: Obesity affects 1/3rd of all U.S. adults and is associated with an increased risk of all-cause mortality. Health care providers see patients multiple times a year and are an educational conduit to counsel patients on the benefits of health habits and appropriate weight management. It is a common thought that providers should act as role models to their patients, but many struggle with being overweight themselves. How does this affect patient care? The purpose of this review was to determine how lifestyle counseling to patients is affected when a provider does not follow the health practices they prescribe.

Method: An exhaustive search of the available medical literature was conducted using the OVID, CINAHL, and Web of Science databases with physician weight, health advice, and patient care as search headings. Five articles met the inclusion criteria for final review. A GRADE approach was utilized to assess the quality of the reviewed articles.

Results: Studies indicated that physicians who were of appropriate weight and/or noted healthier lifestyle habits reported higher rates of lifestyle counseling, were more likely to initiate weight loss conversations with their obese patients, and reported higher confidence in their diet and nutrition counseling compared to physicians who did not claim healthy habits or had a high body mass index (BMI). In another study, participants reported higher confidence in health education when it came from a provider who admitted to exercise and healthy nutrition. Other studies, although of limited utility because of poor design, reported similar findings.

Conclusion: It appears beneficial for providers to engage in healthy habits and weight management. Although healthy providers report higher efficacy in their counseling and patients reflect higher confidence and motivation when counseled by healthier providers, no current literature shows the long term efficacy of counseling between healthy vs. non-healthy providers. Future studies should also highlight patient perceptions of obese/non-healthy physicians.

Keywords: physician weight, health advice, patient care, obesity, health habits, counseling


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