Physicians rank obesity as public health crisis in U.S.

According to the results from Epocrates' "2007 Obesity Report," physicians surveyed consider obesity to be the single largest public health crisis in the United States. The greatest contributors to that crisis, they added, are the lack of exercise and oversized food portions. In addition, a survey respondent told SNEWS® that the fitness and outdoor industries can be of tremendous help in fighting the obesity problem.
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According to the results from Epocrates' "2007 Obesity Report," physicians surveyed consider obesity to be the single largest public health crisis in the United States. The greatest contributors to that crisis, they added, are the lack of exercise and oversized food portions. In addition, a survey respondent told SNEWS® that the fitness and outdoor industries can be of tremendous help in fighting the obesity problem.

"The fitness and outdoor industries could help in fighting the obesity epidemic by changing their message to emphasize the obesity problem, and the associated chronic diseases that obesity leads to strokes, heart attacks, osteoarthritis, etc.," said Liviu Klein, M.D., of the Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute, Northwestern University Hospital, in Chicago. "It is important to provide solutions to this problem, namely a healthy lifestyle with a calorie appropriate diet and daily exercise."

Today, 52 percent of physicians believe that more than half of their patients are overweight, the survey reported. According to nearly 90 percent of physicians surveyed, this percentage has increased in the past five years despite greater attention to the issue. While Epocrates said physicians are striving to make a difference, more than 40 percent of the respondents stated that they are not addressing the subject with all of their patients.

"This survey shows how pervasive obesity is across the nation, and how crucial it is for physicians to educate their patients about its risks," said Klein in a statement. "Education around the negative health effects of smoking has dramatically decreased adult use of tobacco in the last 20 years, and we hope awareness around the obesity-related co-morbidity risks will have a similar and more immediate impact."

Epocrates also reported that physicians largely believe that individuals and the food industry are mostly responsible for the issue. Physicians rank education and school restrictions on soda and fast food among initiatives that will have the greatest impact on slimming the population, recognizing that obesity in children most often leads to adult obesity.

"It is important that the general public doesn't perceive the exercise as just 'going to the gym like trendy young people,' but something that is absolutely necessary in order to prevent further disability, chronic diseases and death," Klein noted to SNEWS®. "I think the American public needs to shake off the 'sugarcoating' and see people that actually had complications and died of obesity-related diseases, to understand that the time to act is now!"

Klein also suggested that the fitness and outdoor industries work with health payors, like Medicare and insurance companies, to include health-related activities (gym memberships, purchase of treadmills, sports equipment, etc.) in their health insurance plans.

"If you could give every individual a free home treadmill and make them use it daily, we could become a thinner nation," he told SNEWS®.

Additional survey highlights:
>> Physicians consider obesity, chronic disease (93 percent) and smoking (90 percent) as the top three public health issues in the United States.

>> Surprisingly, 88 percent of physicians believe that more than 30 percent of their peers are clinically overweight, even when each understands the long- and short-term consequences.

>> Other health initiatives physicians believe will have a significant impact on reducing obesity include higher health premiums for overweight adults (58 percent), TV advertisements about better nutrition (45 percent), portion control (44 percent) and banning trans fats in all food (30 percent).

>> Only 13 percent of physicians think genetics is the biggest contributor to obesity.

>> Despite not contributing to the obesity epidemic, physicians in the survey also stated that the government and physicians must play a role in reducing America's growing waistline.

>> While physicians were able to identify childhood obesity health risks, such as onset of type 2 diabetes, fewer than half of physicians recognized other key risks, such as higher incidence of liver disease and asthma.

Epocrates (www.epocrates.com) is a San Mateo, Calif.-based, company that offers mobile and web-based products to enable communication between its users and healthcare organizations, such as government agencies, pharmaceutical manufacturers and market research firms. More than 575 physicians across the country responded to the survey on public health issues and the increasing rate of obesity in America; margin of error was +/- 3 percent.

To read comments from clinicians about obesity and for a full copy of the survey results, visit http://insights.epocrates.com/obesity.

SNEWS® View: Even doctors say they don't do enough when it comes to exercise, let alone talk to their patients enough about it. Could be a touchy topic, we suppose, "Say, Sally, you're looking a little chubbier these days. What kind of exercise are you doing?" Of course, yes, doctors could find a better way to put it, we're sure, since part of an annual means looking at weight, blood pressure, and other blood readings. So if even those who know better, i.e. the doctors, don't always walk the talk, they need help. It seems to SNEWS® that fitness retailers could partner with medical practices to offer "free" short consultations on getting fit, which could lead to a relationship that could lead to sales, much like chiropractors often offer a free consultation then hand you their card to contact their office for an appointment. Every little bit could help.

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