By Wendy Sarubbi | May 1, 2017 2:46 pm

Obesity affects more than one-third of U.S. adults, contributing chronic diseases such as heart disease, hypertension, diabetes and even some cancers. But when it comes to managing obesity, it’s not just patients that need to be educated. Recent data shows that most physicians are not adequately equipped to educate patients on managing obesity.

“A part of the problem is a lack of knowledge,” says Dr. Magdalena Pasarica, associate professor of medicine at the College of Medicine. “Some physicians may not have the knowledge, as obesity management is not always emphasized in medical schools. Others may not have the counseling skills required to effect a change in the patient’s behavior.”

Dr. Pasarica, a family medicine specialist who has a Ph.D. in nutrition, was invited to speak at Florida Association of Family Physicians (FAFP) Spring Forum on April 21-23, where she shared strategies on obesity management with approximately 100 physicians.

“We know that obesity is increasing,” Dr. Pasarica said.  “Data shows that 42 percent of adult Americans are trying to lose weight and 23 percent are trying to maintain their weight. So with more than half of our population is trying to lose weight or maintain weight, it is even more important for physicians to know how to counsel patients.”

Dr. Pasarica shared several strategies on effecting behavior change in patients that included identifying barriers to change and helping patients overcome these barriers.

“You can tell a patient to go to gym and walk on the treadmill for an hour a day, but in reality, they can’t afford a gym membership. In this case, they are never going to go. S0 the physician has to be able to identify these barriers to change, and suggest other creative ways such as walking around the neighborhood or even the mall.”

She also urged physicians to set clear, personalized and relatable goals that will motivate patients to work toward achieving them. For example, telling a patient that losing 10 pounds will lower their average blood sugar, “may not be directly relatable,” Dr. Pasarica said.  “But if you say, ‘your energy will improve and you can take your grandkids to Disney World’, the patient may be more motivated to work toward this. The important thing is to set goals with the patient that matter for them.”

Other strategies included using motivational interviewing techniques, encouraging patients to use technology such as Fitbits for self-monitoring, involving a support system, and doing cognitive behavior therapy.

Dr. Pasarica noted that at the College of Medicine, lifestyle management is incorporated throughout all four years of medical school curriculum to prepare future physicians to treat obesity.

“In the first year, there are sessions in the Practice of Medicine module. In the second year, we cover lifestyle management in the endocrine and cardiovascular modules and there are electives and boot camps in the fourth year.”

Medical students also gain practical experience in obesity counselling at the student-run KNIGHTS Clinic, for which Dr. Pasarica serves as medical director. The clinic, which provides free health care to the underserved population, recently received a national award for its innovative practices in educating patients on obesity management.

Dr. Pasarica’s talk was welcomed by physicians attending the FAFP conference, who said they found her session relevant and useful.

“Obesity is a major risk factor for many diseases and something family physicians need to understand and know how to work up and treat,” said Dr. Luckey Dunn, chairman of the FAFP board. “Dr. Pasarica has a reputation as a good speaker with a passion for the treatment of obesity and she gave an excellent talk.”



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