Does my doctor understand obesity? The Differences between an Obesity Medicine Specialist and a Primary Care Physician

Obesity is a disease, like diabetes or high blood pressure — a fact that was recognized by the American Medical Association in 2013. Because obesity can be perceived as like many other diseases that you would see a primary care physician for, it seems only natural to ask your primary care physician to help you with your weight, doesn’t it?

Why then do so many physicians give uninformed answers ranging from “Eat less, exercise more!” to “Push away from the table and close your mouth?” Often, patients leave their doctor’s office feeling more demoralized and frustrated than before they had asked for help with this sensitive issue.

As a family physician, I completed four years of medical school and three years of post-graduate training. I needed to pass multiple sets of board exams covering the totality of the information a physician is supposed to know. I also attended medical education courses every day during my three years of post-graduate work in family medicine as required prior to sitting for my family medicine board exams.

You might be interested to know that there was not a single lecture (during my training) in nutrition. There was not a single lecture on obesity, despite the fact that over 50 percent of the patients in our community hospital were affected.

“Okay, but that was back in the 1990′s!” you might say. “Things must be better now!”

They aren’t. I can tell you this because I am sitting for my family medicine recertification exam in 2 weeks (I have to recertify every 10 years). I have studied hundreds of hours for the test. Again, in the board review course, there is not a single slide on nutrition, and there are about five slides on weight management, all of which contain misinformation.

Instead of asking your doctor “What can I do about my weight?” ask him or her “Have you received training in the medical management of obesity? Is it a problem you are comfortable helping me with, or do you know a good obesity medicine specialist in this community?”

An obesity medicine specialist has undergone extensive training in the evaluation and treatment of obesity, taking courses from organizations such as the Obesity Medicine Association, the Harvard Obesity Course, or The Obesity Society. They have learned to evaluate and treat weight problems with the same seriousness and respect as other problems like diabetes. They know how to take a weight and diet history, evaluate related medical problems, and develop an individualized treatment plan that addresses the medical problems, psychological contributors, functional difficulties and physical limitations. They understand for whom anti-obesity medications are appropriate, and for whom they are not, and they know when bariatric surgery should be a consideration for a patient.

The highest certification offered today is from the American Board of Obesity Medicine (ABOM). To receive this certification, a physician must have a primary specialty (like Family Medicine), complete a comprehensive training program in obesity and pass a rigorous board exam

You wouldn’t trust a psychiatrist to screen you for colon cancer or a chiropractor to treat heart disease, so don’t trust just any doctor to treat your weight. Seek out a physician who has had the proper training in helping individuals affected by excess weight and obesity, so you can get the best care medicine has to offer. With proper care, treatment is possible, successful and provides benefits beyond just a lower weight.

Dr. Ethan Lazarus

About the Author:

Dr. Ethan Lazarus is board certified in family medicine and obesity medicine. His practice has focused 100 percent on obesity treatment for the past 12 years. He currently serves as the treasurer/secretary for the Obesity Medicine Association, and serves as a delegate in the house of representatives of the American Medical Association. He is also the director of Clinical Nutrition Center in Greenwood Village, Colorado, where he lives with his wife and three beautiful children.



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