UAE doctor says many colleagues lack knowledge to treat obesity

Family medicine conultant calls for more workshops for general practitioners to to keep them up-to-date on the problem that is blighting the UAE.

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ABU DHABI // Doctors need to be kept up-to-date with the latest information about the causes and effects of obesity and how to treat the condition if they are to tackle the problem successfully, experts said.

Although a major health issue in the region, only a limited number of lectures on obesity are offered as part of doctors’ training and regular workshops are not provided to keep them abreast of current thinking once practising.

“We received some information about healthy lifestyle, diet and the reasons behind obesity but we were not taught how to manage obesity,” said Dr Mariam Al Mehairbi, a family medicine consultant at Al Gharbia Hospitals, in the western region of Abu Dhabi.

The Emirati added that while she was studying in Al Ain she received only a few lectures about the condition.

“Speciality training for family physicians focusing on psychiatric reasons of obesity or counselling is not provided,” she said.

The problem is exacerbated if doctors themselves are also overweight, said Dr Al Mehairbi.

“At times, physicians are obese and thus they avoid talking about the issue. Other times they just lack training.”

Rahma Ali, a clinical dietician at Burjeel Hospital, said working and training closely with doctors would help to combat the problem.

“If doctors have more knowledge about this, it will help us work better as a team. We work together with doctors and complement each other. The doctor diagnoses the issue while we counsel patients and help them change their eating habits,” said Ms Ali.

She suggested setting up workshops that doctors and dieticians can attend together to help each clearly understand the other’s role.

Dr Al Mehairbi agreed, adding that whereas dieticians play a part in guiding a person with regards to what to eat, a physician is required to rule out the secondary causes of obesity or any complications.

“Maybe the problem is in the endocrine system or maybe the patient has a complication like diabetes or hypertension. This will not be discovered by dieticians as blood tests, clinical examinations and assessment is required and the main corner is the physician,” she said.

Dr Al Mehairbi suggested that GPs in primary healthcare attend regular workshops, as these will be the medical professionals who have first contact with patients.

John Feenie, chief executive of the UK’s College of Contemporary Health, which develops short online courses about obesity, said medical professionals are often ill-equipped and do not have the knowledge needed to help overweight and obese patients.

“In many countries, including the UK, USA and Australia, medical curricula usually include less than 10 hours of instruction about obesity,” he said.

“Medical professionals do not feel confident in giving necessary advice on the topic about a patient’s weight and so more often than not it is avoided in primary practice.”

Mr Feenie believes doctors and health professionals need to be better trained in the behavioural aspects of obesity, including communication skills required to broach the issue with a patient in a sensitive way.

While nutritionists are equipped with the knowledge of biochemistry and physiology, as well as nutrition, they are often lacking in training related to the behavioural aspects and psychological side of managing and treating an obese patient and will not necessarily have the knowhow to develop an exercise programme to support their advice, he said.

The college of Contemporary Health, is developing online programmes that will train doctors on obesity issues, such as working and living with obesity. It is also in the process of developing short courses on managing childhood obesity and fertility and obesity.