Are Overweight Doctors a Problem for the Profession?

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

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August 02, 2006

In This Article

Robert W. Donnell: A Personal Struggle

In a recent video editorial appearing on Medscape,[6] a slim, svelte Michael Dansinger, MD, gently scolded the medical profession about the problem of physician obesity. When I responded with a somewhat curmudgeonly post on my own blog asking, "Are doctors the next targets of the fat police?"[7] I left out something important: my conflict of interest disclosure. I suffer from "tight white coat syndrome" myself.

I had all the usual excuses for adding 40 pounds to my 5-foot 10-inch frame over the past 10 years, including middle age, stress eating, and too little time for exercise. Disgust with my ever increasing poundage grew over the years, but I did little about it. There were constant reminders. Among the most painful were those from former patients I hadn't seen since leaving private practice to become a hospitalist. "Better watch it there, doc," they'd say, some of them people I'd lectured about their own eating habits years ago. Clearly, as my waistline grew, so did my credibility gap.

When given the assignment to discuss physician obesity in this forum, I knew it was time for some personal changes. As I pondered how to go about it, Dr. Dansinger's suggestions seemed appealing in their simplicity: Count calories and exercise. But the exercise regimen is difficult. The Institute of Medicine recommends at least an hour a day of moderately vigorous physical activity,[8] but for busy doctors, the benefits of exercise come at a high price. With only so many hours in the day, something has to give, and often it's sleep. Ironically, recent research has implicated sleep deprivation as a contributor to obesity.[9,10,11] Thus, a compulsive schedule of exercise conceivably could produce diminishing returns if sleep deprivation counters the benefits.

Maybe it's not so simple after all. We're all different. In the real world, each of us must find a routine that matches our individual lifestyle and sleep requirements. What will work best for me? I'm not sure, but I know I'll have one thing going for me now that I've been outed: public accountability. Stay tuned for progress reports on my blog.

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