Theoretically, doctors are supposed to help us with our health. After all, MDs are healthcare professionals. As such, shouldn’t they represent what optimal health looks like? Professional athletes are the best at their sport, and professional actors are the best at acting, so shouldn’t healthcare professionals be the best at health?
Over 40% of American adults are currently obese, and over 70% are overweight. According to the 2007 Physicians Health Study, 23% of U.S. doctors are obese, and over 40% are overweight. Alright, those are better numbers than the general population but not the top percentile, either.
That still means that 1 out of every 5 MDs in the U.S. is obese. So how can the professionals that spend almost a decade in school learning everything there is to learn about the human body, chronic disease, and medicine not be able to take care of their own health? How can they allow their bodies to reach the point where they are at such high risk of type-2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and many lifestyle-related cancers?
Well, because of how our system is set up, doctors have to fight a steeper uphill battle than most regarding their health and nutrition. MDs are all high achievers who are dumped into an incredibly high-stress profession, work long and irregular hours, and are basically cogs in a machine that does not incentivize or allow them to prioritize their health.
Doctors blame their busy, irregular schedules for their weight gain and obesity
Just look at some of the food options available at a hospital vending machine or cafeterias, and it is no wonder why doctors aren’t healthier. If all they can do is grab a soda and a snickers bar as they run in between patients, that isn’t exactly going to reinforce good eating habits.
Making the problem worse is that very few dieticians and nutrition experts can help doctors improve their eating habits. As this article points out, most dieting advice for weight loss is only relevant for people with a consistent 9 to 5 schedule.
The author of the article, a doctor herself that struggled with weight loss, argues that the constantly changing dieting fads simply won’t work “for the surgeon confined to the operating room for 9 hours at a time or the anesthesiologist who can’t even manage to drink water during the workday.”
The key takeaway? Would it be nice for our healthcare professionals to be aspirational emblems of health that we could all strive to emulate? Yes, that would be great, but we have to acknowledge that doctors are human just like the rest of us dealing with a system rigged against them and not doing their health any favors.
Can an obese doctor be a good doctor? Yes, they can have all the requisite knowledge, bedside manner, and dedication to their craft to be the best doctor they can be, but if they are not able to work on their own health they will eventually fall well short of their potential to help others.
In order to help others, doctors and nurses alike need to help themselves first. After all, you can not pour from an empty cup. Our healthcare system needs to change by making our practitioners a priority. If there has been anything that the last couple of years has taught us, it is that we need our doctors and nurses, and we need them to be healthy and at their best so that they can help us when we need it most.
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