The Physician: Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise?

Carol Peckham


January 23, 2014

In This Article

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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