Doctors giving ineffective, superficial weight loss advice to patients

In a surprise find, researchers have revealed that doctors are generally giving vague and superficial advice to patients living with obesity to lose weight.

Moreover, their guidance is commonly not supported by scientific evidence, according to research published in Family Practice, published by the Oxford University Press.

“This research demonstrates that doctors need clear guidelines on how to talk opportunistically to patients living with obesity about weight loss,” said Madeleine Tremblett, one of the paper’s lead authors.

“This can help them to avoid amplifying stigmatising stereotypes and give effective help to patients who want to lose weight,” Tremblett added.

To reach this conclusion, the researchers analysed 159 audio recordings of consultations between general practitioners and patients living with obesity collected from the UK between 2013 and 2014.

The investigation found that weight-loss advice from doctors to patients with obesity rarely included effective methods and mostly consisted of telling patients merely to eat less and be more physically active.

The advice was mostly generic and rarely tailored to patients’ existing knowledge and behaviours, such as what strategies they had tried to lose weight before.

The advice was mostly abstract or general. Superficial guidance, such as one doctor telling a patient to just “change their lifestyle a bit” was common.

Doctors frequently told patients to get help somewhere else for support in weight loss, often suggesting that they return for another consultation at their surgery.

The analysis indicated that when doctors did offer specific information it was often scientifically unsupported and unlikely to result in actual weight loss.

The notion that small changes in behaviour (“take the stairs more often”) can have a large weight loss impact is a common myth and is even prevalent in scientific literature, but it isn’t supported by research.

Another common myth was that patients just needed the “right mindset” to lose weight, said researchers.

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