THE BLOG
06/21/2013 03:04 pm ET | Updated Aug 21, 2013

If Obesity Is a Disease, Who's Going to Treat It?

This past week, the American Medical Association (AMA) declared obesity a disease, effectively making it a medical condition requiring treatment.

So here's my question...

If nearly 80 million obese American adults and 15 million obese American children now need medical treatment, who exactly is going to administer that treatment?

According to the AMA, it should be physicians. Which is an odd choice since obesity is intimately linked with -- if not directly related to -- eating and exercise behavior.

And throughout their training, most medical students receive less than two weeks' curriculum in nutrition prescription, and no direct coursework in exercise prescription.

Of course, obesity isn't just about eating properly and exercising. In many cases, obese individuals have lifestyle-related metabolic or hormonal disturbances that also need to be addressed.

But again, throughout their medical training, physicians aren't given the essential tools to deal with these physiological complications.

According to Dr. Spencer Nadolsky, a practicing physician in Virginia who works with many overweight and obese clients, "The average physician is taught next to nothing about obesity treatment in medical school and residency."

Beyond the obvious lack of training preventing most physicians from being able to effectively treat obesity, there's another issue at stake: physicians just aren't afforded enough time with their patients.

Recent research suggests that the average amount of time American physicians spend with their patients is eight minutes; barely enough time for a presentation of symptoms and a subsequent referral or prescription.

"When a patient is overweight or obese," says Dr. Nadolsky, "every doctor's knee jerk response is to mention 'diet and exercise'."

Sure, we've all heard it before. But let's be honest, "eat right and exercise" is nothing more than a cliché. Like a mother wagging her finger and telling children to eat their vegetables, it has no teeth.

Especially if those doctors don't eat well or exercise themselves. According to the CDC, 42 percent of male physicians and 32 percent of female physicians are overweight or obese. And, as recent research suggests, people see overweight doctors as less credible than "normal weight" doctors.

Which brings us back to my original question.

If physicians have:

a) Essentially no training in nutrition and exercise prescription for obesity,
b) Minimal training in the relationship between metabolic health and obesity,
c) Very little time to actually discuss lifestyle intervention in obesity, and
d) Little experience eating right and exercising themselves...

...Who's going to treat obesity again?

According to Nadolsky: "There is a new -- and quickly growing -- specialty in medicine focusing on obesity, the ABOM (American Board of Obesity Medicine). These physicians are more than equipped to treat obesity. But it needs to be a multidisciplinary approach."

This is definitely hopeful. However, are there enough of these docs to help the 95 million obese in the U.S. alone?

Will these docs be given more time to work with patients? Will they be incentivized to integrate with psychologists, personal trainers, and nutritionists?

Or will it be more of the same?

Too many patients, too little time, too many prescriptions, and too few legitimate treatment options.

John Berardi, PhD is a founder of Precision Nutrition, the world's largest online nutrition coaching company. In the last 5 years, Dr. Berardi and his team have personally helped over 20,000 people lose over 300,000 pounds of body fat through their renowned coaching program, Lean Eating.

For more by John Berardi, PhD., click here.

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