GPs should stop worrying about causing offence and take action by offering patients help with controlling their weight, experts have said.
“Our study found that a brief, 30-second conversation, followed by help booking the first appointment on to a community weight loss programme, leads to weight loss and is welcomed by patients,” said lead author of the study, Paul Aveyard, who is also a working GP.
“On average, people consult their doctor five times a year, meaning there is huge opportunity to deliver this low-cost intervention on a large scale.”
One in four British adults is obese, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation.
For the new study, 137 medics challenged almost 1,900 patients about their weight during routine consultations unrelated to weight loss.
At the end of the appointment, patients were randomly given one of two 30-second interventions: half were offered a 12-week weight management programme free on the NHS, while the other half were advised by their GP that losing weight would benefit their health.
All of the participants were weighed at the first consultation. At three months, they were then asked whether they had taken any action to manage their weight. They were then weighed again after a year.
Three quarters of those invited on the weight loss programme agreed to go and 40% attended.
The study, published in the Lancet, found that people who were referred to the programme lost an average of 2.4kg compared with 1kg in the control group.
A quarter of participants in the referral group had lost at least 5% of their body weight after a year. Meanwhile 12% had lost at least 10% of their body fat - double the rate of the control group.
Four fifths of participants (81%) across both groups found the GP’s intervention “appropriate and helpful”, while just 0.2% found it “inappropriate and unhelpful”.
Paul Aveyard said: “Doctors can be concerned about offending their patients by discussing their weight, but evidence from this trial shows that they should be much less worried.”
Dr Alison Tedstone, chief nutritionist at Public Health England, told The Press Association: “It’s important that GPs talk to their overweight and obese patients about losing weight and help them to find further support, as many do already.
“An extra 30 seconds could make all the difference; it doesn’t take long and can be raised in a supportive and sensitive manner.”