Helpful physicians may be key to successful weight loss

When participating in weight-loss programs, a helpful physician can improve the chances of success for people with obesity, according to the findings of researchers from Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore, MD.
The findings of the study could inform the development of weight-loss programs in partnership with physicians.

Their study, published in Patient Education and Counseling, found that obese people participating in a weight loss clinical trial who reported their health care provider’s support as particularly helpful lost twice as much weight as those who did not.

“This trial supports other evidence that providers are very important in their patients’ weight loss efforts,” says Dr. Wendy L. Bennett, assistant professor of medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

“Incorporating physicians into future programs might lead patients to more successful weight loss.”

The value of a good relationship between a patient and their physician has long been recognized. Research has demonstrated that a high-quality relationship involving empathy, good communication and trust are associated with improved appointment keeping and adherence to courses of medication.

Previously, Johns Hopkins researchers also revealed that physicians were less likely to develop an emotional rapport with their overweight and obese patients in comparison with their patients of normal weight.

To investigate how the patient-physician relationship impacts on weight loss, the researchers analyzed data obtained from the Practice-based Opportunities for Weight Reduction (POWER) trial – a government-funded, randomized controlled study that ran for 2 years.

In the POWER trial, obese participants tried to lose weight after being randomly assigned into one of three treatment groups. One group received written materials, one group received remote support and one group received support in person.

Highest ‘helpfulness’ ratings associated with greatest weight loss

The participants that attempted to lose weight with the aid of health coaches and under the supervision of their physicians were asked to complete surveys featuring questions about their relationships with their primary care physicians, including the quality of their communication.

A total of 347 patients filled out the surveys. The patients had an average body mass index (BMI) of 36.3 and each patient had at least one of three cardiovascular disease risk factors: hypertension, high cholesterol and diabetes.

While the researchers found that the vast majority of participants reported a high-quality relationship with their physician, the overall quality of the patient-physician relationship had no bearing on overall weight loss.

However, the patients that rated their physicians highest in terms of how helpful they were during the trial lost an average of 11 pounds. In comparison, the patients that gave their physicians the lowest “helpfulness” ratings lost an average of just over 5 pounds.

The researchers state that many weight-loss programs used by obese patients are commercially run and that patients often enroll without discussing them with their physicians. They conclude that partnering with primary care physicians to deliver weight-loss programs may lead to greater participant satisfaction and improved rates of weight loss.

Obesity is a big problem in the US, with more than one third of US adults – 34.9%, or 78.6 million – recognized as obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The condition is related to numerous other health problems, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some types of cancer. As a result, it is no surprise that public health experts are constantly looking for ways in which weight-loss programs can be improved.

Previously, Medical News Today reported on a study that found the chance of an obese person attaining normal body weight is very low, with just 1 in 210 obese men and 1 in 124 obese women able to achieve normal weights.

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