Doctors and Regular People, Part 2

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Childhood Obesity News has been looking at some of the possible interactions between doctors, patients, and the attitudes they both bring to their meetings, especially when the common ground is obesity. For The Wall Street Journal, Melinda Beck made a report called, “Checking Up on the Doctor: What Patients Can Learn From the Ways Physicians Take Care of Themselves,” which is a classic of its kind.

Perhaps not many people care to know that the average Canadian doctor exercises for nearly five hours per week. But Erica Frank, a British Canadian professor of public health, told Beck why it matters:

There’s a strong link between what doctors do themselves and what they tell their patients to do. If we pay more attention to physicians’ health, we’ll have a patient population that is healthier.

American doctors are also conscientious. In the same year, over half of a group of Harvard Medical School interviewees claimed to exercise at least three times a week. But at the same time, according to the 2007 survey numbers:

[…] 35% of the 19,000 doctors in the PHS were at a healthy weight, 40% were overweight and 23% were obese.

And yet, the study being discussed here found that doctors, as a demographic group, are “leaner, fitter and live longer than average Americans.”

Long-term study

A total of 25,000 doctors — all male — have been tracked by the Physicians’ Health Study since 1982. The PHS contributed a solid piece of evidence that physical activity is necessary, by finding that the subjects who got daily exercise “were only half as likely to develop Type 2 diabetes than those who didn’t.” The important thing is, doctors who actively police their own weight and who stay active are more likely to advise patients to do those things.

And any advice which they themselves follow is more likely to be credible to patients. Beck wrote:

Doctors who have lost weight say it’s made a big difference in their ability to counsel patients to do the same. ‘I had a number of patients who told me, ‘If you’ve done it, now I really have to do it,” says Michael Fleming, past president of the American Association of Family Physicians who lost 60 pounds, largely by walking 10,000 steps a day and eating smaller portions.

One of the main people Beck went to for information was Edward T. Creagan, M.D., of the Mayo Clinic, who writes for the illustrious institution on the subject of stress. He told her this about doctors:

More of us commit suicide with a fork than any other instrument.

He is not kidding. At Harvard Medical School, half of the doctors admitted to eating fast food “several times a week.” But male doctors seem to keep their blood pressure and cholesterol lower than their civilian counterparts. Female doctors are more likely to be vegetarians than women in the general population. On the other hand, about half of all doctors have written prescriptions for themselves, which many people think oughtn’t to be allowed.

Doctors also report high levels of stress and insufficient sleep and overwork and self-medicating. All those side effects of being a medical professional are also related to eating patterns that result in obesity.

In communist Russia and China, medical professionals were regarded more like auto mechanics or copy-machine repair technicians. In the U.S. sphere of influence, doctors tend to be both very well rewarded, and to be the victims of high expectations. It is taken for granted that a physician will set a good example, that she or he will be physically fit, and also psychologically healthy and spiritually vibrant. That is a lot to ask of anyone.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Checking Up on the Doctor,”, 05/25/10
Image by William Cho.

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