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Is normal too thin?

Try this experiment. If you are tending to overweight ( Body Mass Index (BMI) 25 or over) then try to get to BMI 18.5 -24.9.  If you succeed people will decide you have lost ‘too much weight’  even when your BMI is in the middle of the normal range. If normal was defined as ‘what is most common’ then to have a ‘normal’ BMI is unusual and we may have become blind to normal so that what we perceive as ‘normal’ is not ideal. Rates of overweight and obesity are now at 60-70%.

In an Australian study on the public perception of body size the authors report that:

Overweight participants were also most likely to incorrectly identify themselves as a healthy weight (67 per cent, p<0.001), compared to 12 per cent of obese participants . The majority (89 per cent) of normal weight participants accurately identified themselves as being a healthy weight. Flanagan et al

Therefore it is not surprising that when people are challenged about their weight in healthcare they are reluctant to identify the issue as a problem.

Picture by Phil Gradwell

Do you mind if I don’t take your advice?

Your customers, clients or patients are free to choose. Despite your most earnest desire to save them from themselves they may choose to pass on your advice today. Is that alright? They may decide never to give up on the donuts, to stop smoking or head to the gym. As a consequence they may continue on the way to chronic illness. Do people have responsibilities from the ethics point of view?

Autonomous patients do have duties most of which are left out of mainstream medical ethics. Some of these duties flow from the obligations all persons have to each other; others are the
responsibilities citizens have in a welfare state. More specifically, patients have duties corresponding to those that render doctors captive helpers. Patients have to- morally have to do their best to ensure that they minimise this captivity and enable doctors to be willing helpers. Although doctors remain captive in the face of acute or life-threatening illness, it is not unethical for doctors to free themselves from this captivity in cases that fall short of life or death. Draper and Sorell

Picture by Viv Lynch

Where were you when I was bored and saw this?

The triggers are everywhere- Hungry? Thirsty? Bored? Sad? We have something for you right now. Meanwhile your advise is a quiet voice in the back of their mind. There is an entire industry dependent on people’s bad choices, they are not taking a holiday this year working on how to influence them more than your diet and exercise program. There’s another industry depending on those choices so that you- doctor- will prescribe their neatly packaged answer to the expanding waist lines and furred arteries. It’s about the economy. The show must go on.

Picture by osde8info

For sustained behaviour change: show don’t tell

BACKGROUND:
This randomised controlled study evaluated a computer-generated future self-image as a personalised, visual motivational tool for weight loss in adults.
METHODS:
One hundred and forty-five people (age 18-79 years) with a Body Mass Index (BMI) of at least 25 kg/m2 were randomised to receive a hard copy future self-image at recruitment (early image) or after 8 weeks (delayed image). Participants received general healthy lifestyle information at recruitment and were weighed at 4-weekly intervals for 24 weeks. The image was created using an iPad app called ‘Future Me’. A second randomisation at 16 weeks allocated either an additional future self-image or no additional image.
RESULTS:
Seventy-four participants were allocated to receive their image at commencement, and 71 to the delayed-image group. Regarding to weight loss, the delayed-image group did consistently better in all analyses. Twenty-four recruits were deemed non-starters, comprising 15 (21%) in the delayed-image group and 9 (12%) in the early-image group (χ2(1) = 2.1, p = 0.15). At 24 weeks there was a significant change in weight overall (p < 0.0001), and a difference in rate of change between groups (delayed-image group: -0.60 kg, early-image group: -0.42 kg, p = 0.01). Men lost weight faster than women. The group into which participants were allocated at week 16 (second image or not) appeared not to influence the outcome (p = 0.31). Analysis of all completers and withdrawals showed a strong trend over time (p < 0.0001), and a difference in rate of change between groups (delayed-image: -0.50 kg, early-image: -0.27 kg, p = 0.0008).
CONCLUSION:
One in five participants in the delayed-image group completing the 24-week intervention achieved a clinically significant weight loss, having received only future self-images and general lifestyle advice. Timing the provision of future self-images appears to be significant, and promising for future research to clarify their efficacy.

Trials. 2017 Apr 18;18(1):180. doi: 10.1186/s13063-017-1907-6.

Picture by Rene Passet

Dog walking may assist weight control

Height and weight were measured for 281 children aged 5–6 years and 864 children aged 10–12 years. One parent reported their own and their partner’s height and weight (n=1,108), dog ownership, usual frequency their child walks a dog, and usual frequency of walking the dog as a family. Logistic regression analyses were adjusted for sex (children only), physical activity, education, neighbourhood SES, parental weight status (children only) and clustering by school.

Dog ownership ranged from 45–57% in the two age groups. Nearly one in four 5–6 year-olds and 37% of 10–12 year-olds walked a dog at least once/week. Weekly dog walking as a family was reported by 24–28% of respondents. The odds of being overweight or obese were lower among younger children who owned a dog (OR=0.5, 95% CI 0.3–0.8) and higher among mothers whose family walked the dog together (OR=1.3, 95% CI 1.0–1.7). Health Promotion Journal of Australia

Picture by astrid westvang

What we eat at work may be very bad news

We spend so much time at work- what we eat there matters. What makes it worse is that we may be triggered to eat things that are very bad news for our waist line.

Expressed as terms of a percentage of your life, this 39.2 hours a week spent working is equivalent to

  • 14% of your total times over the course of a 76 year period (based on the average projected life expectancy of 76 for people born in the year 2000 according to the ONS’s National Life Tables for the United Kingdom.)
  • 23.3% of your total time during the course of a 50 year working-life period
  • 21% of your total waking hours over a 76 year lifespan, assuming 8 hours of sleep a night.
  • 35% of your total waking hours over a 50 year working-life period assuming 8 hours of sleep a night
  • 50% of your total waking hours during any given working day. ReviseSociology

I summarise in the video:

Picture by fredenslund

The long-term impact of overeating during the holiday season

We do not gain weight steadily through the year. In fact, it is primarily from the end of November to mid-January that we find ourselves tempted and triggered to eat more than we need. With a seemingly endless round of invitations to partake in sugary treats most people succumb and add up to one kilo to their already growing girth.

The average BMI of males in their 40s in the West is 25.6 to 28.4. The numbers are similar for women.  In other words, most are overweight. Researchers document that during this holiday season adults consistently gain weight during this period (0.4 to 0.9 kg).

Participants seeking to lose weight appeared to increase weight although this was not consistently significant and motivated self-monitoring people also appeared to increase weight. These results must be considered for registered dietitian nutritionists, other health providers, and policy makers to prevent weight gain in their patients and communities during this critical period.

Obesity is an epidemic with a rising tide of chronic and life-limiting illnesses in its wake. As healthcare professionals,
we need to be confident about raising the issue of overindulgence without putting a damper on the festivities.


Picture by jrchapoy

It is time for primary care to enter the triggering business

It has been suggested, some would say demonstrated that doctors know very little about their patients. If you are a doctor could you identify your patient’s partner from a line-up of strangers (other than people you see as a couple)?  Or could you tell without seeing the name on the document if this bank statement belonged to that patient? Or whether that utility bill was from where that person lives? Is this internet search history theirs? Do you know how much they spend on lottery tickets? Alcohol? Vegetables?

A few years ago our team then based in the UK was evaluating an intervention to increase access to general practitioners. If the intervention worked we would have to demonstrate improvement over the course of a whole year. Here’s the thing, we noted that year after year there was a pattern to the demand for same day (emergency) appointments- with definite peaks and troughs. So if the intervention worked it would have to be sustained during both the peaks and the troughs. It did. The data on out-of-hours services exhibited very similar patterns- with definite peaks and troughs and at unexpected times of the year. We could not explain the patterns but noted that when the meteorological office recorded  22 hours or more of sunshine in the week the demand for appointments dropped. Not the prevalence of viral or other community pathogens but sunshine of all things! Okay may it was some factor that we hadn’t modelled in the analysis but there was a definite pattern that we could not immediately explain on the basis of what seemed plausible at the time. We called it the Spring Cleaning Effect– we hypothesised that people in the UK were less likely to attend doctors in general practice when there was a run of sunny days on which to do outdoorsy things. We didn’t anticipate this- nor did clinic managers because the patterns of demand were not used to inform the scheduling of doctors’ on-call rosters. It was clear that they were blind to a phenomenon nobody understood fully.

More recently I reviewed some data on certification for low back pain and noted the pattern that as unemployment rates in a locality increased the rates of certification dropped and then plateaued.

Our team is now investigating similar data from a large employers’ records. We hypothesise that rates of submission of sickness certification will show a sharp drop when vacancy rates fall and other markers of economic health decline. People may be far less likely to take time off sick if they are fearful of upsetting their supervisor. With respect to primary care, it is unlikely that doctors will know everything that impacts on their patient’s choices. Time spent with the patient in discovering these things is unlikely to increase as it comes at a financial cost. Therefore doctors will never fully anticipate all the drivers to patient behaviour. Why does that obese person fail to take action on weight management? Why does this other person take ‘medication holidays’ when they need to take the treatment consistently to benefit? Why does the next person refuse to have an X-ray? Why is there a rush of people with relatively minor conditions demanding appointments this week and not last?

Some drivers lead people to behave in unexpected ways as I have commented here previously. Not only that but as Mullainathan and Shafir have postulated people are often unable or perhaps unwilling to follow doctor’s advice. In the end, the best we can hope is to trigger the relevant behaviour in people who are already motivated and seek teachable moments to inspire people to act for their benefit. Primary care may be more about recognising or fishing for opportunities and much less ‘educating’ for change. Such triggers need to fit within the final moments of a 15-minute consult. The work to develop and evaluate such triggers is only beginning. Counselling patients to stop smoking will yield 1:20 quits in a year, showing them a trigger (in less than 5 minutes) that appeals to their vanity results in 1:7 quits. A substantial number (1:5) of obese people will lose weight in 6 months if they are shown what difference that would make to their appearance without having to be extensively counselled on diet and exercise.

Picture by Aimee Rivers

Why when you are sick don’t you do what you can to help yourself?

At 68 Frank has been prescribed the usual mix of medications: three different drugs for blood pressure, a statin and two different pain killers. His problems, as he lists them are fatigue, snoring and back pain. From his doctor’s perspective, the problems are obesity, a dreadful diet, and sedentary lifestyle.

OK doc, but I think I need a referral for my snoring.

Two weeks ago he wanted a different pain killer and the week before that he wanted to be referred to a physiotherapist. The major challenge in helping people who are struggling with chronic disease is persuading them that they have the wherewithal to slow or possibly cease the march towards disability. It seems incredible that someone who cannot walk to the end of the street without stopping for breath several times cannot see any reason to stop eating junk food and sugary drinks while watching telly from 6 pm until two in the morning. Bad habits will drive choices even when people are aware of their growing disabilities. There may be many reasons for this but one that may be worth considering is boredom.

Our culture’s obsession with external sources of entertainment—TV, movies, the Internet, video games—may also play a role in increasing boredom. “I think there is something about our modern experience of sensory overload where there is not the chance and ability to figure out what your interests, what your passions are,” says John Eastwood, a clinical psychologist at York University in Toronto. Anna Gosline.

What is challenging is that some people who have already developed a life-limiting illness cannot be ‘educated’ to make different choices while they don’t admit even to themselves how and why they are contributing to their own demise. If healthcare is to actively promote well-being we need to find ways to help people identify when they are bored and not just focus on the consequences including atheromatous vascular disease. The role of doctors needs to include tackling harmful habits and not limited to therapeutics.

Picture by Craig Sunter

Healthcare will do better when Joe accepts that he is in trouble

There is nothing especially remarkable about Joe. At 49 he works as an administrator for a company in the city. He walks to work from the station having taken a train from the suburbs. He weighs 78Kgs and is 170cm tall (BMI 27). To stay that way he needs to consume no more than 1900 calories per day. He has a bowl of cereal for breakfast, a  panini sandwich for lunch and a home cooked dinner with a glass of wine. That’s about 1900 calories. Joe isn’t inspired at work but he earns a reasonable living. They bought a new car last year and Joe is tied to a hefty car loan, his wife Bridgette gave up her job as a nurse when they had their children ten years ago. They now have three children under 10. The youngest has asthma but he seems so much better since he was put on a steroid inhaler. Joe and Bridgette have had their ups and downs. They worry about money.  Mostly they work hard and are doing their best to raise their boys. At the weekend Joe goes to a football match but since his mid-twenties doesn’t play any sport. With the kids doing sport and music lessons there isn’t time. Joe has never smoked a cigarette.

During the week Joe goes for coffee with his colleagues at 10.30 every morning. He also enjoys a small muffin. Then he has a banana at 2 pm and a couple of small biscuits while he is watching television in the evening. He doesn’t think too much about it. He is consuming 500 calories more than he needs per day and in 6 months when Joe is 50 his BMI will put him over the line into obesity.

Joe rarely sees his doctor. In winter he occasionally gets a chesty cough and makes an emergency appointment with any doctor who is available because Bridgette says he might need an antibiotic. Once or twice since his thirties, a doctor checked his blood pressure and it is always normal. He had a medical as part of his mortgage application when he was 35 and everything was ‘normal’. Most of Joe’s friends are heavier than Joe and he still thinks of himself as ‘healthy’.  After all, he walks to work, has a healthy banana as a snack in the afternoon and he makes sure his evening meal is a healthy one.

Joe doesn’t see any problem. There is really time to talk to the doctor about why he likes that large cup of coffee and the muffin or to say that he is stuck in a dead-end job with a mortgage to pay and children to raise. Joe doesn’t admit that he is bored. The coffee break is the highlight of an otherwise long day of drudgery.  Joe’s trousers are getting a little bit tighter. Bridgette has noticed but his friends are all so much bigger and Joe doesn’t think she’s worried about it. She herself has gone up three dress sizes since the children were born so she doesn’t tease him too much. Besides, he just got a bigger size recently and he still thinks he looks good.

Joe is at risk of becoming a statistic in the epidemic of Globesity. All that stands in the way is the ingenuity and interest of those who care to find a way to help Joe turn things around.

Picture by Khuroshvili Ilya