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Ask Your PCP: Obesity Screening and Counseling for Adults

Obesity: talk to your primary care physician (PCP)

This health condition is linked to heart disease, diabetes, cancer, disability, and increased risk of death


Helen Rho, MD, PhD
Internal Medicine
Boulder Medical Center

With the arrival of fall, the end-of-year holidays are just around the corner. This can be a difficult time when trying to maintain a healthy weight. I like to talk with my patients during this season about their strategies for staying on track with smart eating goals. Moderating our intake of food during the holidays and throughout the year is an important step we can take to prevent medical conditions that are linked to obesity.

Obesity is a health condition that affects more than 40 percent of women and 35 percent of men in the United States.1,2  This past year, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) published recommendations on behavioral interventions for weight loss to prevent obesity related morbidity and mortality in adults.3,4 The USPSTF recommends that medical clinicians offer or refer adults with a body mass index of 30 or higher to intensive, multi-component behavioral interventions that help with weight management.

What is obesity?

For adults, obesity is defined as a “Body Mass Index” (BMI) of 30 or greater.  BMI is calculated as weight (in kilograms) divided by height (in meters), squared (kg/m2). Your BMI is easy to calculate with online tools; you only need to know your weight and height.

Your primary care provider can also help determine your BMI and assess risks to your health. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC): “At an individual level, BMI can be used as a screening tool but is not diagnostic of the body fatness or the health of an individual. A trained healthcare provider should perform appropriate health assessments in order to evaluate an individual’s health status and risks.” Living with obesity is linked to heart disease, diabetes, cancer, disability, and increased risk of death, especially in those younger than 65 years of age.1, 5-9.

What can I do to reduce my BMI?

Studies have shown that behavioral interventions resulting in dietary changes and increased physical activity helped participants achieve and/or maintain 5 percent or more weight loss. Participants who received behavioral interventions also experienced greater waist circumference reductions than those who did not at 24 months of followup.10  A diverse group of interventionists in these studies included primary care providers, registered dieticians, behavioral therapists, lifestyle coaches, exercise physiologists, and psychologists.

For many, weight loss is not a simple equation. Relevant education and developing healthy lifestyle behaviors can help with weight loss and long-term weight maintenance. Components of interventions include identifying barriers, peer support, self-monitoring, exercising, preventing relapse, and using tools to help with weight loss such as exercise videos, pedometers, food diaries, food scales, and more.

So, before the holidays, ask your doctor to help you get on track. Primary care providers can discuss this common health condition and help direct you to effective interventions, if needed.


Additional Resources


About Dr. Helen Rho

As an internal medicine physician, Dr. Helen Rho addresses the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of adult diseases. Board certified in both Internal Medicine and Family Medicine, she is trained to diagnose and treat a broad range of acute and chronic medical conditions. Dr. Rho is available as a primary care provider for adults.

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Article References

  1. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality; 2018. AHRQ publication 18-05239-EF-1.
  2. NCHS Data Brief. 2015; (219):1-8.
  3. https://www.uspreventiveservicestaskforce.org/Page/Document/UpdateSummaryFinal/obesity-in-adults-interventions1
  4. JAMA. 2018;320(11):1163-1171. doi:10.1001/jama.2018.13022
  5. Arch Intern Med. 2007;167(16):1720-1728. doi:10.1001/archinte.167.16.1720
  6. Ann Intern Med. 1995;122(7):481-486. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-122-7-199504010-00001
  7. BMC Public Health. 2009;9:88. doi:10.1186/1471-2458-9-88
  8. Lancet. 2014; 384(9945):755-765. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(14)60892-8
  9. BMJ. 2017;356:j477. doi:10.1136/bmj.j477
  10. JAMA. 2018 Sep 18;320(11):1172-1191. doi: 10.1001/jama.2018.7777
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