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Nutrition is a key determinant of health, but American physicians aren't receiving effective training to counsel patients on the topic, according to a new paper from University of Georgia researchers.

People with obesity, and higher body weight, are more likely to have health problems. Yet, many doctors do not possess the necessary skills to educate their patients on how to lose weight properly.

The researchers advocate the idea that small changes to medical education, and in how health care providers interact with their patients, could have a real impact on some of the greatest health challenges facing the world today.

Fact 1: BMI is not an accurate measure of health, cardiometabolic health is.

BMI has long been the standard for sorting individuals into four main categories: underweight, healthy weight, overweight or obese. This is taught in medical school as a way of gauging a patient's general health. The problem is, it's not accurate. BMI incorrectly overestimates the number of people who are unhealthy.

Fact 2: Medical education on nutrition should instead focus on objective measures of cardiometabolic health.

Cardiometabolic health includes things like blood pressure, insulin resistance, cholesterol levels and more. This is a much stronger predictor of overall health.

Previous research demonstrated that almost half of Americans deemed overweight by BMI standards are actually metabolically healthy. About one in three whose BMI is in the "healthy" range are actually unhealthy when assessed by more comprehensive measures.

"Overweight patients are less likely to get the appropriate screenings or treatments for their medical concerns. Physicians may miss ailments like asthma, or they may even miss something more serious, like cancer, because they attribute symptoms to weight when weight isn't what's causing the patient's concerns." - Dr. Ellen House, co-author of the publication and an associate professor at the Medical Partnership.

Those negative interactions where health concerns are dismissed with a simple "just lose weight" demoralizes patients and can make them less likely to share problems going forward. Reframing the conversations between doctor and patient to focus on healthful behaviors, such as moving more and avoiding labeling foods as inherently "good" or "bad," can go a long way in encouraging individuals to move toward health.



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