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What is a Bariatrician?

by Nicola Grun

Spring 2008

Bariatric physicians are doctors who specialize in helping patients lose weight without surgical intervention. Bariatricians treat obesity and related disorders. Many people who hear the term bariatrics automatically think of “stomach stapling.” Googling the word produces “barometer,” or an atmospheric pressure gauge. Bariatric medicine is the art and science of medical weight management. The word “bariatric” is derived from the ancient Greek root “baro,” meaning heavy or large.

Bariatric physicians, also known as bariatricians, specialize in the medical treatment of obesity and related disorders. Bariatricians are often confused with bariatric surgeons who perform weight-loss surgeries. Most bariatricians incorporate weight management services into an existing family, internal medicine or OB-GYN practice.

Medical Weight Management: A Two-Step Process

A medically supervised weight-loss treatment program generally consists of changes in diet, physical activity levels and behavioral therapy. Treatment involves a two-step process of assessment and management. Assessment includes determining a patient’s degree of obesity and overall health status. Management involves weight-loss, maintenance of body weight and measures to control other risk factors.

The cost to participate in a medically supervised weight-loss program is comparable to the cost of weight-loss programs that do not have a physician on site, for example LA Weight-loss, Weight Watchers and others. Health insurance companies may cover some or all of your bariatric treatment if you have heart disease, metabolic syndrome, diabetes or a pre-diabetic condition.

The American Society of Bariatric Physicians (ASBP) is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education to provide continuing medical education for physicians. Approximately 1,200 healthcare professionals belong to the ASBP. ASBP developed Bariatric Practice Guidelines to assure quality bariatric care. ASBP member physicians are encouraged to conform to these guidelines.

What to Expect during Your First Visit to a Bariatrician
  • Physicians perform an initial patient work-up to determine treatment based on each patient’s history, physical examination, laboratory work and electrocardiogram. Co-morbidities are assessed and physicians determine if patients are ready and motivated to lose weight.
  • Dietary status, weight history and history of mental status are recorded.
  • Height, weight and waist circumference measurements are recorded. These measurements help determine body mass index. Additional exams of the head, neck, thyroid, heart, lungs, abdomen and extremities may be performed.
  • Laboratory testing usually includes electrocardiogram, thyroid function and other body composition testing.

Physicians provide counseling and follow-up on proper eating habits, exercise, behavior modification and other aspects of weight-loss. Your physician will recommend a diet and set physical activity goals which must be recorded regularly throughout the duration of treatment.

Physicians will review the potential benefits and risks of any medications that may be used during treatment. In addition to medical journals and ASBP’s Anorectic Usage Guidelines, physicians rely on their education, training and experience. Any dispensed medications should be packaged and labeled according to applicable laws.
Physicians develop an individual weight-loss maintenance program for each patient after weight-loss goals are achieved.

Questions to Ask Your Bariatrician

Before meeting with a bariatrician for the first time, ask the following questions so that you can feel more comfortable with their level of training and expertise:

  • Do you specialize in bariatrics?
  • Is your education in this area current?
  • What kind of initial patient work-up do you perform?
  • What is your policy on the frequency of follow-up visits?
  • If you prescribe medication, what potential side effects can I expect?
  • Do you prescribe low calorie and very low calorie diets with supplements? If so, have you received special training in monitoring patients on these diets?
About the American Society of Bariatric Physicians (ASBP)

The ASBP is an international nonprofit medical association with special interest and experience in the comprehensive treatment of overweight, obesity and related disorders. Its mission is to advance and support the physician’s role in treating overweight patients.

To locate a bariatrician in your area, please visit the ASBP’s Web site at and click “Locate a Physician,” or call (303) 770-2526 for more information.

About the Author:
Nicola Grun is Director of Communications & Marketing for the ASBP. Ms. Grun received her undergraduate degree in Speech Communication from Colorado State University. Prior to her current role, Ms. Grun was the Marketing Director for a Denver nonprofit providing mentoring, leadership development and outdoor training to underserved youth.

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