Studies have determined that primary care physicians tend not to discuss weight management practices with obese or overweight individuals. A new report suggests that a quick, 30-second discussion can offer significant, long-term benefits.

The goal of the study, published in The Lancet (2016; doi:, was to understand what impact a general practitioner can have by offering a short consultation on an obese patient’s ability to lose weight. Researchers also wanted to gauge patients’ impressions about the PCP addressing their weight.

The intervention involved 137 primary care physicians in England and 1,822 obese individuals who visited a PCP for a non-weight-related issue. During the visits monitored in the study, PCPs randomly assigned patients to one of two 30-second consultations. The first was simply a short discussion about the health benefits of weight loss. In the second, the PCPs referred patients to a 12-week weight management program. If a patient accepted the referral, the physician would ensure that the patient made the appointment and would also offer follow-up.

The intervention proved successful: In the referral group, 77% of patients agreed to the weight management program and 40% of them completed it. This group lost an average of 5 pounds, which was about 3 pounds more than the average weight loss in the advice-only group. After a year, 25% of those in the referral group had lost at least 5% of their body weight and 12% of them had lost at least 10%. Very few participants felt the consultations were inappropriate, despite the fact that they had not visited the physician for weight management guidance.

“In conclusion, a brief opportunistic intervention by physicians to motivate weight loss in unselected patients who are obese was highly acceptable to patients,” the authors said. “When combined with supportive systems, the intervention led to overall population weight loss.”

Ryan Halvorson

Ryan Halvorson is an award-winning writer and editor. He is a long-time author and presenter for IDEA Health & Fitness Association, fitness industry consultant and former director of group training for Bird Rock Fit. He is also a Master Trainer for TriggerPoint.

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