What if your doctor is an overweight smoker?

You’ve got to start exercising and lose weight.

A doctor could dispense this recommendation to every person who walks through the clinic door and hit the nail on the head about 70 percent of the time.

But what about doctors?  As it turns out, we tend to be healthier than people on the other end of the stethoscope, but only barely.  Fifty-three percent of physicians in the U.S. are heavy enough to be classified as overweight, a number only slightly lower than the general population (64 percent).

We do much better when it comes to other markers of health.  The rate of smoking among medical professionals has plummeted over the years, from 20 percent  in 1970 to less than 5 percent at the turn of the century. However, worldwide, about a quarter of doctors, including cardiologists, smoke.

Foreign doctors tend to be thinner than Americans but have more trouble with tobacco.  If you were to attend one of our big international meetings you might find scores of well-dressed men and women standing outside the convention center puffing away.

We know based on recent research from the Obesity Research Journal that overweight doctors tend to gloss over the issue of obesity more than their thinner colleagues:

The study found that normal-weight physicians were more likely to talk about weight loss with their obese patients (30 percent vs. 18 percent), had more faith that patients would trust their advice (80 percent vs. 69 percent) and had more confidence in their ability to provide diet and exercise advice (53 percent vs. 37 percent).

But the biggest disparity of all was in the way physicians actually assessed patients. Normal-weight doctors had a 93 percent probability of recording an obesity diagnosis in overweight patients, compared with only 7 percent of overweight doctors. In short, if a patient’s body weight met or exceeded the doctor’s own body weight, the patient was more likely to be judged obese. 

Just keep in mind that a visit with your doctor is a business transaction: You are paying him or her to tell you how to live happiest, healthiest and longest. Let the data speak for itself, no matter what your doctor looks like.

I would challenge all doctors to lead the lives they preach. Ultimately, the patients decide whether to take our advice, at least in part, by how much we believe in it ourselves.  And, unfortunately, our patients can easily determine how much we believe our own advice by simply glancing at our pant size.