Physician, heal thyself – obesity edition

My hatred of residency is well documented. I was overworked, depressed, and miserable. I was also overweight. Both my wife and I were at our worst, eating-wise, while I was a resident and fellow in Seattle. It showed.

Turns out I wasn’t alone:

With an estimated 40 000 accredited continuing medical education events in the United States, more than 9000 residency programs, and tens of thousands of research meetings annually funded by the federal government and by foundation grants, opportunities abound for incorporating brief and energizing bouts of physical activity into organizational routine. A Canadian study showed that 55% of male physicians (n = 2121) and 25% of female physicians (n = 1092) were either overweight or obese, and most did not meet recommended MVPA levels.

A smaller study of physicians (N = 498; 67% male and 33% female) in the United States reported that 53% were obese or overweight; and in the national Women Physicians Health Study, only 49% (n = 4501) met recommended MVPA levels. While comprehensive data on physician MVPA levels in the United States is lacking, the high rates of overweight and obesity in this group suggest less than optimal MVPA considering that overweight is closely correlated with physical inactivity.

“MVPA” by the way, stands for “moderate to vigorous physical activity” levels recommended by the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans.

More than half of physicians are obese or overweight. I can’t say I’m surprised. The lifestyle doesn’t lead to a lot of free time for exercise, or to seek out healthy eating options. I’m not optimistic about anything changing soon, but as we call on physicians to help lead the charge against obesity, it might be nice if we could find a way to help them lead by example.


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