New Tool Prepares Health Care Providers to Discuss Weight and Health With Adult Patients

November 6, 2014

Why Weight? A Guide to Discussing Obesity & Health With Your Patients is available at

WASHINGTON, D.C. - The Strategies to Overcome and Prevent (STOP) Obesity Alliance released a tool for health care providers today that offers guidance and suggestions on how to initiate conversations with adult patients about weight and health. Why Weight? A Guide to Discussing Obesity & Health With Your Patients is a unique tool designed to help providers build a safe and trusting environment with patients to facilitate open, productive conversations about weight.

Weight is a complex and sensitive issue, and conversations surrounding the topic can be challenging. Because obesity and overweight affect two-thirds of Americans, health care providers increasingly are being called on to support their patients in matters dealing with weight.

Many providers have concerns about how to begin discussing weight in ways that are empowering and nonjudgmental. The tool discusses potential scenarios providers may face and suggests ways to approach the conversation, including strategies for:

  • Building trust and connections
  • Beginning the conversation about weight and health
  • Assessing patient readiness
  • Promoting active listening
  • Addressing realistic goals with patients
  • Discussing culture, tradition, and social supports

“Research has shown that behavioral and medical treatment can be effective, but improvised and uninformed discussions may stigmatize, shame, or fail to engage patients, to the detriment of the provider-patient relationship and patient outcomes,” said STOP Obesity Alliance Director William H. Dietz, MD, PhD. The Alliance is based at Milken Institute School of Public Health (Milken Institute SPH) at the George Washington University. “This tool offers providers a unique and much needed resource that can help them to facilitate conversations about weight,” said Dietz, who is also the director of the Sumner M. Redstone Global Center for Prevention and Wellness at Milken Institute SPH.

In addition to skills for building a safe, trusting environment with patients and facilitating productive conversations about weight, the guide also includes practical information on coding and patient accommodation.

STOP developed the guide using a comprehensive process that included conducting an audit of available research on provider-patient communication and consultation with a range of experts from obesity practice and research, primary care practice, nutrition education, women’s health, minority health, and the patient community to offer insight based on their expertise and to guide development of the tool.

“We are thrilled to have taken part in the process to develop this tool and think it does an excellent job of responding to a real need among providers for resources to initiate these difficult conversations,” said Wendy K. Nickel, MPH, Director, Center for Patient Partnership in Healthcare for the American College of Physicians. “It is a well-informed and valuable resource for physicians.”