Looking for one national statistic not climbing steadily alongside the obesity rate? How about instances of weight counseling initiated by primary care physicians.
Penn State College of Medicine researchers say weight counseling for patients classified as overweight or obese has dropped 46 percent in 10 years.
"We were surprised by these results ourselves," said Dr. Jennifer Kraschnewski, assistant professor of medicine. "Obesity and overweight affects two out of every three Americans, so you would think that this would be more of a forefront issue."
Kraschnewski said a team of researches analyzed data from the National Ambulatory Medical Care survey for the years 1995-96 and 2007-08, because of the continuity of how studies in each year were conducted.
"This survey samples outpatient primary care services," she said. "We used it in order to get an idea of how physicians were doing in terms of counseling their patients."
The research uncovered startling results, Kraschnewski said. Obesity rates climbed more than 10 percent from 1996 to 2008 to a rate of 63.3 percent. Meanwhile, weight-counseling rates plummeted with only 6.2 percent of patients receiving the service from their primary-care physicians in 2008.
Kraschnewski offered several possible reasons for the aversion to weight counseling in outpatient facilities, including an increase in chronic diseases, limited training for lifestyle coaching and a pessimistic attitude toward patients' willingness to change.
"Nowadays, clinic visits include a lot more time spent caring for chronic conditions," she said. "Doctors don't get a lot of training in order to learn how to provide lifestyle counseling on weight control. Some physicians have weight problems themselves and don't feel capable of providing counseling."
But Kraschnewski said the commercial and Internet markets provide a wealth of weight-counseling resources for patients to use in the absence of a physician's guidance.
"If people aren't interested in going to their doctors, there are a lot of weight programs and online programs for weight control," she said. "Things like Weight Watchers or Livestrong.com."
Kraschnewski said the passage of the Affordable Healthcare Act also will prompt doctors to address weight control with their patients more frequently. "Its now required (that) insurers pay for these services," she said. "So we are going to have to figure out how to do this."
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