Are you obese? Might depend on whether your doctor is, too


Turns out obesity is in the eye of the beholder. Whether you’re diagnosed as obese is supposed to depend on your own body-mass index -- but a new study shows that it can also depend on your doctor’s.

Physicians who were overweight or obese were far less likely to diagnose obese patients than physicians at a more normal weight, according to research published this month in the journal Obesity.

Researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore surveyed 500 primary care physicians nationwide in early 2011 and found that doctors with a normal BMI, below 25, treated their patients very differently than did doctors with a BMI of 25 or higher.


Normal-BMI doctors were more likely to talk to their obese patients about weight loss (30% versus 18%). They were also more likely to give advice on diet (53% versus 37%) and exercise (56% versus 38%).

In one of the most stunning figures in the paper, however, the probability that a normal-weight doctor actually recording an obesity diagnosis for an obese patient was 93%. For overweight or obese doctors, it was just 7%.

Interestingly, the gap seemed to narrow a bit when physicians were asked whether they thought patients would be less likely to trust weight loss advice from an overweight or obese doctors. An overwhelming 80% of normal-BMI doctors agreed, but so did a very respectable 69% of overweight and obese doctors.

The likelihood that a physician would diagnose a patient as obese or talk to them about weight loss was higher, the researchers wrote, “when the physicians’ perception of the patients’ body weight met or exceeded their own personal body weight.”

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