Helping Patients Prevent Obesity-Related Chronic Disease

Article Categories: Diabetes & Cardiopulmonary

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” wrote Benjamin Franklin. When it comes to prevention in healthcare, from vaccinations to mammograms to skin checks, people are always wise to take measures to avoid diseases and conditions.

During a 2010 Institute of Medicine workshop, Keynote Speaker Steven H. Woolf, MD, MPH said, “A large proportion of the chronic diseases…are preventable, providing an opportunity to exploit prevention as a strategy to bend the curve and reduce growth in disease burden and its associated costs. Fully 38 percent of all deaths in the United States are attributable to four health behaviors: smoking, unhealthy diet, physical activity, and problem drinking.”

One of the common risk factors for developing a chronic disease is obesity. Obesity is defined as a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 30 or more. For example, a patient who is 6 feet tall (72 inches) a normal weight range is 140-177 pounds, with a BMI of 19-14. For the same patient, a BMI of 25-29 is considered overweight at 184-213 pounds, and obesity is more than 221 pounds. A BMI of greater than 35 is termed “morbidly obese.”

Some facts about obesity:

• About 35% of American adults are obese
• With obesity, there is increased risk of death, regardless of cause
• Obesity contributes to diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and some cancers
• Joints are stressed, leading to osteoarthritis
• There is a correlation between obesity and mental illness, such as depression and anxiety
• If the current obesity rates continue, Medicare spending will increase by 34% in order to handle the diseases and complications

What can Medical Assistants do to help patients prevent chronic disease or early death from obesity?

• Post a BMI chart near the scales. When you weigh a patient, calculate the BMI and provide it, with an explanation. Many patients don’t know what BMI is and why it is important.
• Print or obtain BMI charts to give to patients for reference at home.
• If the patient is diabetic, use the A1C or blood glucose test results as a teaching point to emphasize how weight loss can lower the numbers.
• For patients who are hypertensive or have heart disease, even a small weight loss can have positive changes.
• Do the footwork for patients by finding local resources for weight loss and exercise. Keep lists handy to give patients.
• Organizations such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, American Diabetes Association, American Heart Association, and American Dietetic Association have excellent handouts online in PDF format, as well as programs and information for patients to use at home.

Although you may have limited time with an overweight or obese patient, you have the unique opportunity to help the patient learn about the risks and complications of his or her condition, and to provide information and resources. Your interaction might be the motivator to make diet and lifestyle changes that lead to weight loss and a better quality of life.

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