05 September 2023

Healthy and helpful GP conversations the key to managing obesity

The Royal Australian College of GPs (RACGP) has today said that the right kind of healthcare can make all the difference when helping patients with obesity.

It comes ahead of the World Organization of National Colleges, Academies and Academic Associations of General Practitioners/Family Physicians, or WONCA, world conference in Sydney from 26 to 29 October 2023.  WONCA will include a comprehensive panel discussion on obesity featuring expert speakers from around the world examining issues including:

  • the effectiveness of health promotion interventions delivered by community health workers to control obesity

  • weight gain in patients living with early psychosis

  • factors associated with weight gain during the COVID-19 pandemic

  • obesity management in primary care and the link to effective lifestyle management and preventative medicine.

You can register to attend WONCA here. A WONCA pre-conference workshop (CPD hours attached) on a novel approach to medically supervised weight management will be held on 25 October from 1 30pm to 3pm. Those interested can register for the workshop while registering for the conference.

RACGP Specific Interests Obesity Management Chair, Dr Terri-Lynne South, encouraged GPs to sign up for WONCA this year.

“This conference is a wonderful opportunity that will bring together GPs, family doctors and primary health practitioners from across the globe,” she said.

“You can share your own insights and learn from others and the panel discussion on obesity on Sunday 29 October certainly looks promising.

“Obesity is a delicate area for GPs and patients to navigate. We live in an era of social media comparisons and people suffering from body image pressures, so providing the right kind of care and support is crucial. GPs certainly don’t want to make people feel worse about themselves or even discriminated against; however, we can’t avoid discussing weight with patients entirely.

“This is a growing problem in Australia, with 67% of the nation’s adults falling into the categories of being overweight or obese alongside of a quarter of children and adolescents. So, clearly this is something that must be front of mind for GPs and practice teams, and that includes helping people to take the steps necessary to improve their health and wellbeing rather than just focussing on the numbers on the scale.

“The focus needs to be on healthy and helpful conversations so that we can help patients improve their health trajectory. GPs will not talk about weight in isolation; instead, we provide holistic care and look at the patient’s entire health history and life circumstances.”

Dr South said that GPs had a vital role to play.

“GPs should be given the tools to bring up this topic in a sensitive way. So, one approach is to ask the patient if it is okay to measure their weight and then look carefully for clues from the patient as to whether that is something that is causing them distress,” she said.

“More can and should be done in this space and that includes more education for medical students and clinicians to ensure all patients are being respected and offered the highest quality treatment. If we had separate training relating to stigma and bias and a greater understanding of the biology of weight control – that is something that could be very beneficial.

“Every patient is different and I’m mindful of research which provides that some health professionals may not fully understand the negative impacts weight stigma can have for some people. If a patient has had bad previous experiences with a health professional and feel a sense of shame, they may be reluctant to reach out and seek help and that is the last thing we want. So, the aim for GPs is to ensure people who are overweight or obese are seeking healthcare and that they are getting the same investigations or treatment as someone who’s not living in a larger body.”

Hosted by the RACGP, WONCA is not a conference to be missed. Themed, “Recovery, reconnection, and revival. A celebration of primary care," it will include more than 800 presentations and workshops from over 700 local and international presenters from around the world. WONCA will feature over 50 streams, covering a range of issues being faced by GPs including obesity, mental health, women’s health, climate change, rural practice, and more.

Media enquiries

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