Working together for weight loss

In the modern version of the Hippocratic Oath, physicians are reminded that “warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh the surgeon's knife or the chemist's drug.”

Dr Liz Sturgiss has gone further than Hippocrates. She has worked out what warmth, sympathy and understanding actually weigh: five to eight kilograms.

Dr Sturgiss from the ANU Medical School has led a pilot study which found GPs with good patient relationships are well-placed on the health frontline to help patients manage their weight.

"GPs and patients with warm and respectful relationships, shared goals and good agreement on what to do to achieve those goals got the best results," says Dr Sturgiss.

Her team—which includes GPs, nurses and psychologists—developed a toolkit that guides GPs and their patients through an evidence-based weight management program.

Part of the toolkit measures the effectiveness of a relationship between a GP and patient to manage weight problems.

"More and more patients are coming to GPs with obesity problems, and we want to give GPs the tools to assist their patients. The current guidelines for obesity patients are to refer them to a dietician. However, this doesn't work for everyone."

Dr Mel Deery, whose practice in Canberra was involved in the pilot study, says the research helped the practice to treat weight and obesity problems.

"Through the research project we helped a number of patients lose five to eight kilograms, which is a significant amount, and we're continuing to use these strategies with patients. This work is vital as obesity is a major public health problem that can lead to heart disease, stroke, arthritis and many mental health problems," Dr Deery says.

Dr Sturgiss says the research team would use the pilot study results to conduct a randomised control trial, which could inform public policy on health and guidelines in GP clinics across Australia.

Find out more about ANU research in medicine