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A physician's lifestyle habits and training matter when counseling patients on diet and exercise

September 23, 2010
  • Doctors who exercise more and who are better trained feel more confident about talking to patients about lifestyle behaviors.
Doctors who exercise more and who are better trained feel more confident… (Tim Sloan / AFP/Getty Images )

The last time you saw your doctor, were you counseled about diet and exercise? If not, it could be because he or she didn't think they had sufficient training to do so.

In a study published online in the journal Preventive Cardiology, trainee physicians and more experienced attending physicians were asked about their lifestyle habits and also whether they thought they had received adequate training in counseling patients about diet and exercise.

The study participants included 183 doctors, 56% of whom were residents or fellows and considered trainees, and 44% of whom were attending physicians. Both groups said they didn't eat enough fruit and vegetable and got little exercise.

Trainees said they ate more fast food than did attending physicians -- two fast-food meals per week compared with fewer than one -- and they exercised less. Among attending physicians, about 40% said they exercised four or more days per week, while only about 10% of trainees exercised that much. About 26% of attending physicians and about 8% of trainees reported getting more than 150 minutes of aerobic exercise per week. Meditation and maintaining a regular yoga practice was a low priority for both groups.

About 70% of attending physicians and 37% of trainees said they counseled two-thirds or more of their patients about lifestyle behaviors such as nutrition and physical activity. Both groups said that they counseled patients for less than five minutes per visit. Most doctors in both groups felt ill-prepared to counsel patients on diet and exercise.

Those who felt most confident about counseling were more likely to exercise more than 150 minutes per week and had sufficient counseling training. But doctors who were overweight were also more self-assured about talking to their patients. In the study, the authors wrote, "Given that a prior study on smoking observed that smoking physicians who were considering quitting themselves were more likely to counsel patients on smoking cessation, we hypothesize that overweight providers who are considering changing their exercise habits may be more likely to counsel their patients regarding exercise."

-Jeannine Stein / Los Angeles Times

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