Healthy and helpful conversations key to obesity management

National Obesity Strategy

The right kind of healthcare can make all the difference when helping patients with obesity, says the Royal Australian College of GPs (RACGP).

“Obesity is a delicate area for GPs and patients to navigate,” says RACGP Specific Interests Obesity Management Chair, Dr Terri-Lynne South.

“We live in an era of social media comparisons and people suffering from body image pressures, so providing the right kind of care and support is crucial.”

Dr South says it’s not to make people feel worse about themselves or even discriminated against.

“However, we can’t avoid discussing weight with patients entirely,” says Dr South.

“This is a growing problem in Australia, with 67% of the nation’s adults falling into the categories of being overweight or obese alongside of a quarter of children and adolescents.

“Clearly, this is something that must be front of mind for [healthcare teams], and that includes helping people to take the steps necessary to improve their health and wellbeing rather than just focussing on the numbers on the scale.

“The focus needs to be on healthy and helpful conversations so that we can help patients improve their health trajectory.”

Healthcare professionals, including pharmacists and GPs, have a vital role to play in helping patients with weight management.

“One approach,” suggests Dr South, “is to ask the patient if it is okay to measure their weight and then look carefully for clues from the patient as to whether that is something that is causing them distress.

“More can and should be done in this space, and that includes more education for [healthcare professionals] to ensure all patients are being respected and offered the highest quality treatment.

“If we had separate training relating to stigma and bias and a greater understanding of the biology of weight control – that is something that could be very beneficial.

“Every patient is different, and I’m mindful of research, which provides that some health professionals may not fully understand the negative impacts weight stigma can have on some people.

“If a patient has had bad previous experiences with a health professional and feels a sense of shame, they may be reluctant to reach out and seek help, and that is the last thing we want.”

The RACGP will be hosting an upcoming World Organization of National Colleges, Academies and Academic Associations of General Practitioners/Family Physicians, or WONCA, world conference in Sydney from 26 to 29 October 2023.

WONCA will include a comprehensive panel discussion on obesity featuring expert speakers from around the world examining issues including:

  • The effectiveness of health promotion interventions delivered by community health workers to control obesity.
  • Weight gain in patients living with early psychosis.
  • Factors associated with weight gain during the COVID-19 pandemic
  • Obesity management in primary care and the link to effective lifestyle management and preventative medicine.