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Doctors give vague and superficial advice on weight loss, says study


HQ Team

December 16, 2022: New Year is approaching, and it is the season for resolutions. According to research, on an average, nearly 45% of people resolve to lose weight every New Year. How many keep to that promise is up for debate. Most who seek professional advice for weight loss are told to eat less and walk more. But now a study says that is not the most practical of advice.

According to a study published December 13, 2022, in the journal Family Practice, in most cases, doctors give patients weight-loss advice that’s more abstract than actionable, too vague to be beneficial, and not always supported by science.

A University of Oxford team of experts investigated 159 audio recordings of consultations between general practitioners and patients with body mass indexes of BMIs in the “obese”  range. The advice was cursory, including guidance that one person should “change their lifestyle a bit.” Only 20% of the appointments included doctors offering advice about how actually to accomplish the weight loss they were recommending.

Common suggestions included tips not backed by any actual science, say the researchers.  These included:

  • Eat less, move more
  • Just take the stairs
  • Be careful what you eat
  • Reduce your carbs
  • Use an app to track calories
  • Get as much exercise as you
  • Make your own gluten-free flour since it does not contain sugar. (gluten is a protein, and carries sugar)

“Our analysis identifies that clinicians mostly do not provide effective advice, and so even if patients were to follow the advice, they would be unlikely to lose weight,” the researchers write in the journal, noting that the “eat less, do more” angle was the go-to fallback recommendation when other resources weren’t available.

This kind of advice is understandable as obesity has no specific treatment recommended with no medicines that can be prescribed. Doctors are trained to diagnose a disease and prescribe rather than give preventive care. Very little time during the medical school curriculum is spent on nutrition and physical activity.

Hence, it is always better to go to a clinical nutritionist or dietician rather than a general physician.

“Doctors need clear guidelines on how to talk opportunistically to patients living with obesity about weight loss,” Madeleine Tremblett, Ph.D., lead author of the study and a qualitative researcher at the Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences at the University of Oxford in England, says in a press release. “This can help them to avoid amplifying stigmatizing stereotypes and give effective help to patients who want to lose weight.”

There are some constraints to the study as it is based on conversations and based on a small sample.  It’s important to note that it is a random collection of doctors advising people on weight loss, albeit a little vaguely. Many doctors connect on a personal level and direct people to seek professional help from a dietician, nutritionist and physical trainer.

But this study is a good indicator for a healthy debate on a change in curriculum regarding obesity study, getting the health care industry, in general, become more aware of a holistic treatment and more research that is supportive about scientific weight loss.

While much more research is needed and larger conversations around the medical school curriculum—and health care industry strategy at large—are required, this research shines a spotlight on the need for more discourse about what can actually be supportive and fruitful for those seeking to lose weight.

Here are some tips on weight management backed by science by experts.

Don’t focus on calories

“The ‘calorie in, calorie out’ approach is out as it does not account for how food affects our hormones and metabolism. Instead, pay attention to food quality

Eat proper food

Do not go on random diets. Go for a program that satisfies your hunger pangs. A sustainable diet program is easily incorporated into your everyday routine. Hunger erodes willpower, and that is the reason most people abandon diets.

Educate yourself

Read up on food choices, calories and how harmful they can be ( sugar, soda, processed food).


Moderation is your friend, both in physical exercise and eating habits. Small portions of food are the key, rather than dieting.

Reduce stress and get enough sleep

Stress leads to anxiety and unhappiness, which in turn affects your hormones. Sleep deprivation is another culprit.


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