When it comes to helping patients lose weight, it seems success is tied to the delivery of the message.
It’s that dreaded time of year. I love the holidays, and I really love holiday parties with all of their delicious decadence. I have my favorite rituals – the bartender at a client party who makes the perfect martini, the amazing hors d’oeuvres buffet at my dear friend’s club event, my mother’s pie. I could go on, but suffice it to say, it’s critical for me to be “extra good” between holiday events to avoid packing on extra pounds.
In general, I am a healthy eater, and fortunately, I have never faced a serious weight problem. However, I can certainly empathize with the struggles that many cardiovascular patients face in maintaining a healthy weight as part of their ongoing lifestyle management programs. As it turns out, communicating about weight loss using empathy seems to achieve better results than a tough-love approach.
As part of a recent study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, researchers learned that doctors talked about weight in 69 percent of appointments. However, only 38 percent of physicians said they’d been trained in behavioral counseling.
Three months following the appointments,
- patients of doctors who had a more empathetic communication style had lost an average 3.1 pounds
- patients of doctors who were more critical gained an average 0.4 pounds, according to the study.
Another study published in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine revealed that word choice also matters when motivating patients to trim down.
Most physicians used the term “weight” in discussions with patients, the term also viewed most favorably by patients. The terms “BMI,” “unhealthy body weight,” “unhealthy BMI,” “weight problem” and “excess weight” also fell in the range of “desirable” to “neutral” for patients.
However, the least-desirable term to patients, “fatness,” was also the least popular among physicians. “Excess fat,” “obesity,” “heaviness” and “large size” also rated poorly with patients and were rarely used by doctors.
I’m noticing a trend in social media right now, as hospitals and their marketing partners appear to be posting a lot of content this month about holiday eating strategies. I think the findings in these studies serve as good reminders for all of us as we communicate about the importance of a healthy weight as it relates to heart health, both during the holidays and throughout the year.