Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Obesity advice annoying, lifesaving – and actionable

MOM, YOU'RE NEXT

When a doctor tells a patient she's fat—not overweight, but obese—and she needs to get exercising and watch her diet or she's going to die, is it advice or insult?

Dr. Terry Bennett of Rochester, NH, probably thought he was doing the right thing when he did this, according to AP reports published nationwide today, but even after he apologized when he found out one woman patient was offended, she still filed a complaint against him for the bluntness of his advice. Her complaint triggered a state-wide investigation by the New Hampshire Board of Medicine.

The board rejected the initial suggestion that a confidential letter of concern should be sent to Dr. Bennet, opting instead for a full investigation. Bennett has refused to take a medical education course and issue a blanket apology, as the board suggested. "Patients who come to my office are paying $25 an hour," he said. "I'm not going to chat with them about the weather. When they are noticeably obese, I have an obligation to tell them... that overweight will kill them."
Other overweight patients have come to Bennett's defense. "What really makes me angry is he told the truth," Mindy Haney told WMUR-TV on Tuesday. "How can you punish somebody for that?"

Haney said Bennett has helped her lose more than 150 pounds, but acknowledged that she initially didn't want to listen. "I have been in this lady's shoes. I've been angry and left his practice. I mean, in-my-car-taking-off angry," Haney said. "But once you think about it, you're angry at yourself, not Doctor Bennett. He's the messenger. He's telling you what you already know."

It isn't the first time the messenger has been targeted. Last year when the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) launched their Small Step weight-loss project, the ad campaign for the project, focused on the unattractiveness of obese people, came under attack. Kelly Brownell, director of the Yale Center for Eating and Weight Disorders, said "[Their] message to eat healthier and be more active is good, but to set it up in a way that makes overweight people look disgusting is highly insensitive, stigmatizing and not necessary."

Despite the success of a similar campaign designed to convince teens not to smoke based on the unattractive look of life-long smokers, the "gross bodies" ads were withdrawn, and replaced with appeals to fear of high medical costs, loss of quality of life, and early death due to continued obesity.

Still, Dr. Bennett may wish to reconsider his practice of giving it to his patients straight. According to the board, disciplinary sanctions for his offense may range from a reprimand to the revocation of all rights to practice in the state.

Next time, doctor, just hand that obese patient a lollipop with a message on the wrapper: "The Surgeon General has determined that obesity and poor nutrition may be hazardous to your health."

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1 Comments:

Blogger David Skul said...

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1/03/2006 11:47 AM  

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