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What Doctors Need To Know About Interacting With Patients With Obesity

Photo courtesy Obesity Action Coalition

From Texas Standard:

A group of U.S. health organizations, including the McGovern Medical School at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, recently released the first-ever obesity-focused curriculum for American medical education.

Dr. Debbie Horn helped develop the curriculum. She's an assistant professor of surgery at McGovern and board chair of the Obesity Medicine Association. Horn says she believes this training can coexist with the message that healthy bodies come in a variety of shapes and sizes.

"One of the ways we can do that together is, first, using appropriate language. We try to use person-first language all the time – that means using the word 'patient with obesity,' 'individual struggling with obesity,' 'affected by obesity,'" Horn says.

Horn also says when medical professionals talk to patients about the risks of obesity-related diseases, they should emphasize that they'll help them lower those risks while helping the patient live "in the body that is the healthiest place for them to be that their physiology will let them be."

Horn says the new curriculum will measure a physician's or advanced practitioner's competency when it comes to interacting with patients affected by obesity.

"Some of it's around that actual medical care, some of it's around interpersonal communication, some of it's also around bias and stigma and making sure they understand how to talk in an empathetic way with a person struggling with obesity – all that well-rounded approach to disease that we do with every other chronic disease," Horn says.

Horn believes this type of training is only becoming available now because the medical community only recently had the science to understand how obesity is "physiology gone wrong."

"For a long time, we just thought it was someone's willpower; they should eat less or move more," Horn says. "And while changing your nutrition and getting active is an important part of treatment, we know that there are hormones and neuropeptides inside peoples' bodies that drive them to either have more hunger than other individuals or store the nutrition that they eat in a different way."

Support for Texas Standard’s "Spotlight on Health" project is provided by St. David’s Foundation.

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