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Diet Advice from Overweight Doctors

If you suspect that an overweight physician is less likely to advise overweight patients to shape up, you’re right. A new study from Johns Hopkins found that physicians with a normal body mass index (BMI) are much more likely to discuss weight loss with patients who need to drop excess pounds than are doctors who are overweight or obese. The researchers found that 30 percent of the normal weight physicians they surveyed reported discussing weighty matters with patients, compared to only 18 percent of the overweight physicians responding. What’s more, they found that 93 percent of the normal weight physicians were likely to diagnose a patient as obese if they perceived that the patient’s BMI met or exceeded their own. About half of the doctors surveyed were overweight or obese (based on the BMI they reported to the researchers). To arrive at its conclusions, the Hopkins team surveyed a cross section of 500 primary care physicians nationwide. The study was published in the January 2012, issue of Obesity.

My take? The world is full of occupational irony: crooked cops, bankrupt bankers, seasick sailors, and immoral clergy. But one of the most dangerous examples is unhealthy doctors. I feel strongly that physicians should be models of health. Showing, rather than just telling, how to live a healthy life is one of the most valuable services a doctor can give to patients. Unfortunately, conventional medical education virtually ensures students will come out of it with unhealthy lifestyles - it denies you of sleep, feeds you junk food, gives you no time to exercise and teaches you nothing about stress reduction. A typical doctor's working life is more of the same: cost-conscious hospitals and HMOs demand crazy hours, provide substandard food, and require doctors to project an Olympian aura of perfection, when, in fact, they are just as human as the people in their care. At the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, we intentionally built in structured time for meditation, yoga and fellowship. The doctors who come here are encouraged to care for themselves, and they do. I wish more physicians had the time, motivation, and opportunity to do the same.

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