GPs should tell patients if they are too fat, study finds

Family doctors should be more candid with their patients over their weight, new research has found.

In a trial where GPs talked to patients about their weight for 30 seconds, they were much more likely to agree to take part in weight-loss programmes.

According to the study, while some GPs feel awkward addressing a patient’s weight during an unrelated appointment, those who did raise the issue of obesity during a surgery visit do not cause offence and are more likely to help their patients get down to a healthy weight.

Because doctors only have a certain amount of time with each patient, many worry if they bring up the issue of weight, this will lead to long discussions about diets, eating and exercise habits which will take them over the 10-minute consultation they are allowed.

However in a trial where doctors talked about weight with patients for just 30 seconds, it made a major difference to how likely they were to agree to sign up for a special weight-loss programme, according to research which has been published in the respected medical journal Lancet.

More than 130 family doctors took part in the trial, which involved more than 1,800 patients.

GPs were asked to have a conversation when they told patients they wanted to discuss their weight before telling them that the best way to deal with it was to go to a weight-loss programme which would give them support, such as Slimming World or Rosemary Conley, which are available free on the NHS.

Provided that the patient responded in a way which was not negative, doctors then offered to sign them up immediately.
Patients were split into two groups and offered either an NHS-funded place on a weight-loss programme, or were given advice about how to lose excess weight. More than three-quarters of those who were offered slimming classes said yes, and 40 per cent actually went to the sessions.
At the end of a year, patients who had signed up managed to lose an average of 2.43kg. Patients who were simply given advice by their doctor also lost some weight, but not as much, with an average of 1.04kg.
Generally, GPs do not talk to their patients about their weight at the surgery unless that is the specific reason they have made an appointment.