The Physician: Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise?

Carol Peckham

| Disclosures | January 23, 2014

Do Physicians Have a Weight and Exercise Problem?

According to the latest report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 35% of the US population meets the criteria for obesity, which is defined as a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or over.[2] Although far fewer physicians who responded to the Medscape survey are obese (8%), being overweight (a BMI > 25) is still a problem for 34% of them. General surgeons and family physicians had the highest rates of overweight and obesity and dermatologists and ophthalmologists had the lowest rates. According to investigators of a recent study using data from the 2003-2006 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), looking at BMI alone may miss many people at risk for cardiovascular disease. In that study, about a third of men and almost half of women classed as nonobese had a high percentage of body fat. Some experts suggest that a BMI > 27 to 28 would indicate obesity, which correlates better with body-fat percentage than the cutpoint of 30.[3]

According to the 2013 CDC report, obesity rates do not differ between men and women. This gender neutrality regarding weight was supported in a 2013 Gallup poll, which found that about 58% of both men and women felt they were over their ideal weight.[4] In the Medscape survey, obesity was also gender-neutral, but only 8% of both male and female physicians confessed a BMI > 30 in this population. Nevertheless, weight is still a problem among doctors who responded to the survey, and unlike the general population, more men than women report being overweight (39% and 26%, respectively).

In a 2012 Gallup poll, 54.7% of Americans reported exercising 3 or more times a week,[5] while in a Gallup poll of physicians that same year, 58% of physicians claimed to exercise the same amount.[6] When looking at exercise by weight in the current Medscape survey, those who claimed normal weight did best, with 72% of them exercising at least twice a week. The heavier physicians came closer to the Gallup poll results, with 57% of those who are overweight and only 38% of those who are obese saying they exercise as least 2 times a week.

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Table. Physicians' Routine Dietary Approaches 
Dietary Approach Underweight
or Normal Weight
or Obese
Typical American diet (meat most days; carbs most days from white rice, potatoes, or white flour products; high fat) 25% 40%
American Heart Association-type diet (avoid saturated fats; 4-5 cups of fruits and vegetables daily; avoid red meat; at least 2 servings of fish a week; choose high-fiber, whole-grain carbs) 24% 16%
Mediterranean diet (whole grains, seeds, nuts, fruit, olive oil, red wine, protein from fish) 21% 14%
Paleo diet (avoid all processed foods, potatoes, sugar; choose fresh fruits and vegetables, fish, meat from grass-fed animals, eggs, natural oils) 7% 5%
Weight-loss, calorie-restriction diets 6% 11%
Lacto-ovo vegetarian (no meat but dairy and eggs) 6% 3%
Meals on-the-go (take-out, fast food, vending machines) 3% 5%
Weight-loss diets not dependent on calorie restriction (eg, South Beach, Atkins) 3% 5%
Vegan (vegetarian, no dairy, no eggs) 2% 1%
Gluten-free diet 2% 1%
Ornish-style diet (less than 10% of calories from any fat; avoid animal products; large amounts of whole grains and vegetables) 2% 1%


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Authors and Disclosures


Carol Peckham

Director, Editorial Services, Art Science Code LLC, New York, New York

Disclosure: Carol Peckham has disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

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