Are Overweight Doctors a Problem for the Profession?

Robert M. Centor, MD; Pennie Marchetti, MD; R.W. Donnell, MD; Roy M. Poses, MD


August 02, 2006

In This Article

Robert M. Centor: Physicians Are Role Models

Until recently, I had not even thought about the idea of overweight or obese physicians. But, I believe this concept should not be viewed narrowly as only about physician weight and fitness. I believe that what we are considering here is the physician as a role model.

Unlike Charles Barkley or other pop icons who can choose not to adopt exemplary lifestyles, we have the responsibility to serve as role models for our patients. How can we recommend lifestyle changes to our patients if we do not believe in those changes strongly enough to apply them to ourselves?

Now, I understand that expecting physicians to control their weight and to exercise may seem draconian. However, for those who believe that this is good advice for patients, the failure to act personally on such advice is at best hypocritical and at worst disingenuous.

If we compare this to cigarette smoking (and I know I am stretching the comparison here), then I believe physicians have the discipline for success. Although some physicians still smoke, I can count on one hand the few that I know personally -- and I probably know well over 1000 physicians.

How did we reach the point where so few physicians smoke? It represents the success of a long campaign. We police each other. We constantly discuss the damaging health effects of cigarette smoking. We make smoking inconvenient and, frankly, unacceptable.

Can we achieve the same success with weight control and exercise? I believe we can. However, we must change some fundamental aspects of training and practice. Currently, we expect our students, residents, and even ourselves to work very hard. After a long day of being a physician, many feel too depleted to exercise. We start work too early and finish too late. And yet, some of us manage to exercise regularly and control our weight. How do we make this more universal?

We probably need to start making changes in medical school. Somehow, we must make exercise a priority there. We must help future physicians develop the discipline and love of exercise during their formative training years.

Our challenge is great, but it is worthwhile. If we cannot manage this problem for physicians, then we will likely fail in helping our patients. Obesity and excess weight have become endemic in the United States, and the problem is rapidly becoming endemic throughout the world.

We can argue about why adults become overweight and then obese. But we do know how to prevent obesity and enable weight loss: portion control and energy expenditure (exercise).

Many would argue that expecting physicians to succeed in this area represents an unreasonable goal. But if we do not set high expectations, we can never reach them.


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