Weight is an unspoken concern in many GP visits

Weight is an unspoken concern in many GP visits

Despite growing levels of obesity in the Australian population, new research has found that weight is not discussed in GP surgeries as often as might be expected.

Dr Michelle Kilpatrick and a team of researchers at the Menzies Institute for Medical Research at the University of Tasmania looked at National Health Survey data for 15,000 people to investigate the characteristics and proportion of Australians who had reported discussing reaching a healthy weight with a GP.

They found that most Australians who are overweight or obese are missing opportunities to discuss weight management with their GP, particularly if they have not yet developed a weight-related illness.

Dr Kilpatrick said the findings highlighted the importance of GPs finding opportunities to talk to patients about weight management before they developed weight-related illnesses and while they were young.

“It can be difficult for some GPs to navigate the weight-related stigma or psychological concerns patients can experience,” she said.

“Other studies have shown that some brief interventions by the GP can have an effect on weight management, for example just having a conversation about weight management or routine weighing during GP visits.“

In previous studies GPs have identified time limitations, concern about damaging the relationship with their patients, lack of training in how to begin this conversation and low confidence in achieving positive outcomes as some reasons why these conversations did not take place.

The research team included Professor Mark Nelson, who is a GP. “GPs can have a positive impact on patient weight management and are also important in referring to weight-loss programs and surgical interventions,” Professor Nelson said. “While we are good at doing this with patients with established disease we need to pay more attention to this risk factor prior to the onset of disease.”

The more overweight or obese the patient, the more likely they were to have had a conversation with their GP. However even for people with more severe obesity, more than half of the participants in the survey had visited a GP without discussing their weight in the previous 12 months.

The likelihood of a discussion having taken place increased if the patient was experiencing pain, psychological distress or weight related conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, cardiovascular disease or arthritis.

The research has been published in Obesity Research & Clinical Practice.

Contact: Miranda Harman

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