Doctors Need To Screen Patients For Obesity, Experts Say

By Amir Khan on June 26, 2012 8:39 AM EDT

Obesity
Doctors should screen their patients for obesity and refer them to intensive diet and exercise programs if necessary, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force said on Monday (Photo: Reuters / Phil Noble)

Doctors should screen their patients for obesity and refer them to intensive diet and exercise programs if necessary, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force said on Monday. The guidelines reaffirm the panel's previous recommendation from 2003, but incorporate more recent evidence that can help adults lose weight and keep it off.

"The good news is that even what you might consider to be modest rather than radical weight loss has tremendous health benefits," Susan Curry, task force member and dean of the University of Iowa College of Public Health, told Reuters. Losing 5 percent of your body weight has tremendous health benefits, and intensive behavioral counseling programs help you do that and sustain it. Your primary care provider can, we hope, help you to find evidence-based programs."

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More than 35 percent of adults in the U.S. older than 20 are obese. In 1985, no state had an obesity rate higher than 14 percent. By 2010, no state had an obesity rate lower than 20 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Losing weight can help lower the risk of diabetes, heart attack and stroke. An obese person's annual medical cost is $2,700 higher, in 2005 dollars, than a non-obese person, according to a recent study. In 2010 dollars, the last year data is available, that is equivalent to almost $3,000.

The task force recommends measuring a person's BMI to gauge whether they are obese. BMI was introduced between 1830 and 1850 and is measured using a formula that divides your weight by the square of your height. For example, the average male is 5 feet 9 inches and weighs 194 pounds, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

To calculate your BMI, multiply your weight by 703 to convert it into metric units (194 x 703 = 136,382).  Then, convert your height into inches and square it (692= 4,761). Finally, divide your weight by your height. The average male has a BMI of 28.6 (136,382/4,761=28.6).

A BMI between 25 and 30 is overweight. Higher than 30 is obese.

For people who are obese, the task force recommends nutritional and exercise support. Weight-loss and behavioral support alongside physical activity, weighing at regular intervals and counting calories are important, the task force said, and can be done effectively through weight loss groups.

"We need to help people understand why they're not eating more healthfully or being more active, and help them solve those issues," Dr. David Grossman, task for member and medical director of preventive care at Group Health Cooperative in Seattle, told HealthDay. "It's also important that any comprehensive program include a weight-maintenance component."

Nancy Copperman, director of public health initiatives at the North Shore-LIJ Health System in Great Neck, N.Y., said counseling isn't for everyone -- doctors need to gauge their patient's willingness for change.

"For healthy people without a high risk of disease, moderate to intensive counseling nets a small return," Copperman told HealthDay. "And, lifestyle changes can be a touchy subject. Doctors want patients to come back. They want to engage them, not alienate them."

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