Doctors Who Specialize in Obesity

Some healthcare providers specialize in treating obese or overweight people. These healthcare providers are called bariatric healthcare providers or bariatricians. Some of these healthcare providers may also be bariatric surgeons. Bariatric surgeons are trained to do surgery that aids in weight loss.

Obesity is when body fat is above a certain level. Body mass index (BMI) is a common way to measure obesity. BMI is a measurement that uses a person's height and weight to determine a weight category. A BMI of 25 to 29.9 means overweight. A BMI higher than 30 means obese. Your healthcare provider can calculate your BMI for you. You can also ask your healthcare provider to teach you how to calculate BMI yourself. Websites and apps are also available to help you do this. You can even see how many pounds you need to lose to get your BMI down to the normal range.

Obesity can cause health problems such as diabetes and sleep apnea. Losing weight can lower the risk of having these health problems. A general healthcare provider can offer treatment for weight loss. Bariatric healthcare providers have more training in how to treat obesity. They have often had special training after medical school. Many of them take extra exams to earn board certification in bariatrics. Some of them also have training to do weight loss surgery.

A bariatric healthcare provider uses a broad treatment plan. He or she will tailor your plan to meet your needs and preferences. Your plan will include aspects such as nutrition, exercise, behavior changes, and medicines. He or she may advise weight loss surgery. A bariatric treatment plan is done to treat obesity, and also the health conditions linked to obesity. Your plan should take into consideration your culture and traditions, especially around food choices and types of exercise.

Obesity has become a common, serious, and costly problem in the U.S. Approximately one third of adults in the U.S are obese. Because of this, the role of bariatric healthcare providers has become more active in recent years.

Why might I need to see a healthcare provider who specializes in obesity?

If you are obese, it’s important that you get the right treatment. Obesity can lead to a number of serious health conditions, including:

  • Diabetes

  • Arthritis

  • High blood pressure

  • Heart disease

  • Stroke

  • Sleep apnea

  • Liver disease

  • Certain lung diseases

  • Certain cancers

You might begin your treatment with your primary healthcare provider. If you need additional help, you may want to see a bariatric healthcare provider. He or she may have new ideas or approaches for weight loss that can help you. Some bariatric healthcare providers give general medical care in addition to treating obesity. In this case, you may choose to make your bariatric healthcare provider your primary healthcare provider.

What can I expect at my first visit?

During your initial visit, your bariatric healthcare provider may:

  • Take a medical history. This includes your history of nutrition, exercise, and weight loss.

  • Do a physical exam, including BMI, waist circumference, and blood pressure

  • Look at your health problems related to obesity

  • Look for other medical problems that might cause weight gain

  • Look at how ready you are to start an exercise program

  • Find out if you need tests

  • Help you make realistic weight loss goals

  • Give you a nutrition plan

  • Tell you to keep a food diary

  • Find out if you need a weight-loss medicine

Your bariatric healthcare provider should also give you information about:

  • Healthy eating habits

  • Healthy exercise habits

  • How to change health behaviors

  • How mental health affects obesity

  • Complications of obesity

  • Benefits and risks of medicines

Your healthcare provider will create a treatment plan for you based on your medical needs and preferences.

At each follow-up visit, your healthcare provider will check your progress. He or she will make changes to your treatment as needed. If you aren’t losing enough weight, your healthcare provider will suggest that you make other changes. As you lose weight and your health gets better, your healthcare provider might change some of your medicines.

Your bariatric healthcare provider will also talk with you about your changing needs. For example, if you try other treatments and your weight loss stops, your healthcare provider might talk with you about weight-loss surgery.

What tests might my healthcare provider order?

Your bariatric healthcare provider may order a variety of tests to check factors related to your obesity, such as:

  • Tests for diabetes, such as fasting blood glucose and hemoglobin A1c

  • Lipid and cholesterol levels

  • Thyroid-stimulating hormone levels

  • Liver blood tests

  • Kidney function blood tests

  • Vitamin D levels

  • Electrocardiogram to assess heart rhythm

  • Exercise testing to see how well your heart works during exercise

  • Resting metabolic rate to see how many calories you burn at rest

Depending on your medical needs, your healthcare provider might do other tests.

How can I find a healthcare provider who specializes in obesity?

Talk with your primary healthcare provider. He or she may be able to refer you to a bariatric healthcare provider. The Obesity Medicine Association, formerly known as American Society of Bariatric Physicians, has an online listing of healthcare providers. The American Board of Obesity Medicine also has a list of healthcare providers credentialed in obesity medicine as well as links to more information on obesity treatment.

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