Obese visit GP more often than smokers, researchers say

By Emma Wilkinson
Health reporter, BBC News

Image caption,
Obesity has been linked with several chronic diseases

Overweight people are more likely to make frequent trips to their GP than smokers or those who are generally unfit, say Dutch researchers.

The findings cannot be explained by overweight people having a higher risk of chronic diseases, such as diabetes, the analysis showed.

Rising rates of obesity means nurses may have to take some of the pressure off doctors, they said.

The research is published in Family Practice.

The team from Maastricht University looked at GP data from almost 4,500 adults.

Participants also filled in a questionnaire designed to find out about their lifestyles, such as their diet, whether they smoked, how much they drank and how much exercise they did.

They expected to find that the most unhealthy or unfit people would visit their GP more often.

But of the lifestyle factors looked at, only body mass index (BMI) was independently associated with frequent visits to the doctor.

The finding was true of both men and women and was not accounted for by higher rates of chronic illness.

Minor complaints

Although the researchers could not conclude from the study why overweight people may visit their GP more often, they speculated they may have more minor complaints, such as sleep problems or musculoskeletal pain.

Study leader Dr Marjan van den Akker said further work was needed to unpick the reasons for frequent attendance.

And she added that GPs would come under increasing pressure as obesity becomes more common and other ways of managing demand may need to be considered.

"The role of the nurse practitioner is already common in diabetic patients, chronic lung disease and the elderly, so it's very feasible that they could take on this role."

Dr David Haslam, a GP and chair of the National Obesity Forum, said the results certainly reflected what he saw in his practice.

"It's good news that they are worried about their health and want checking out but we also know that we have to do more to identify and manage overweight patients.

"Practice nurses are the mainstay of treating these patients because they can spend longer with them and have the opportunity to give lifestyle advice."

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