We know that weight matters. We know obesity is a major health issue and that many illnesses are solely or largely due to being overweight. Yet surprisingly often, neither doctor nor patient will raise the issue of being overweight. Obesity is – if you excuse the expression – the elephant in the room.
Why do doctor’s not raise the issue? Sometimes because it’s just too difficult a problem to deal with. Sometimes because we are afraid of insulting a patient or hurting their feelings. Sometimes because we’ve tried so often before (with that patient, or with others) that it’s easier just to give up.
And patients? Well sometimes it’s because they have tried and tried and have also given up. Other times it’s because they don’t think doctors can do much to help. And sometimes it’s because they don’t realise – or admit – that they have a problem.
In fact the vast majority of obese patients don’t recognise that they have an issue. A study published this week in the British Medical Journal looked at patients who were obese and what terms they would use to describe their own weight. In medical jargon, the word obese means a BMI* of 30 or more; Overweight is a BMI of 25 or more.
Amongst patients who are obese only 10% would use that term to describe themselves. Even the term overweight was only used by about 30%. In both cases, men were less likely to use the term which most accurately describes their condition.
If patients don’t perceive themselves as being overweight or obese, they are less likely to think about the health issues and consequences, much less raise the issue with their doctor.
One of the interesting findings in the study is that it was first conducted in 2007 and again in 2012. The results showed that whilst the number of people who are obese is increasing, the number of people who use the term to describes themselves is decreasing.
Perhaps we live in a world where obesity is now so common that we simply fail to recognise it when we see it – especially in ourselves.
So next time you see your doctor – if they don’t take the initiative to weigh you – then you be the one to raise the issue.
* BMI stands for body mass index. The formula is Wt (in kg) divided by height (in Metres) squared
BMI = wt/ht^2. So if you are 75kg and 1.7m tall, your BMI is 75/(1.7)^2 = 75/3.0625 = 24.5.