“You should lose weight.”
Although that bit of advice is well-meaning, a more effective communication strategy can actually yield positive results for obese individuals who need to make critical lifestyle changes for better health.
“Health care workers routinely talk to severely overweight patients about how they can help themselves or decrease their risk in many areas — heart disease, diabetes and pain management — but are often unwilling or uncomfortable bringing up the subject of weight loss,” says Kathy Rodean, director of acute care at Sharp Memorial Hospital. “Even when brought up, frequently patients are just told ‘you should lose weight,’ but there are better ways to communicate to help patients achieve much-needed behavioral changes.”
According to Rodean, patients who are obese will less likely be on the defensive and will be more willing to take the advice they’re receiving if health care workers learn to open such conversations in a sensitive, non-judgmental manner.
Effective communication is just one of the many topics that will be addressed at Sharp HealthCare’s annual Obesity Crisis Conference. Organized by Rodean and her colleagues, the conference brings together health care professionals — from medical doctors, surgeons and psychiatrists to dietitians, nurses and ergonomic specialists — who will share current evidence-based interventions, and provide tools and information to help attendees improve the management of obese patients.
Nationally, nearly 80 million adults are obese, and the implications are perilous.
“Obesity is the second leading cause of preventable death in the United States, affecting not only physical health but also economic and emotional health,” says Rodean. “Obesity is linked with increased risk for many diseases, particularly diabetes, cardiovascular disease, sleep apnea, stroke, osteoarthritis and cancer.”
And risk of death is 2 to 12 times higher in an obese person. Current estimates on the amount Americans spend trying to lose weight run from $33 billion to $60 billion annually.
Rodean says that in addition to understanding successful ways to communicate, progress is being made in fighting obesity as the health care community better understands the psychology and treatment of binge eating; barriers obese patients face when exercising; and the link between an unbalanced gut microbiome (your body’s bacteria) and an unhealthy weight.
“There is some fascinating work being done about the influence of gut bacteria on aspects of health we previously never suspected, including weight,” says Rodean. “Researchers are finding that by controlling our hormones and hijacking the nerve that connects our brain to our gut, bacteria may manipulate us into making poor food choices.”
Rodean says she’s excited that so much work is being done to counter a health crisis that’s taken hold across the country. “As we dig deeper and study the various causes of obesity, health care professionals will be armed with better tools to start reversing this trend. We’ll be able to care for these patients safely, more effectively and, most importantly, with compassion.”