Obesity in the Digital Age: Let’s “Scale” Back the Misinformation

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by Tana Bao Tana Bao, BSN, MSN, APRN, NP (New)

Specializes in Family Nurse Practitioner. Has 6 years experience.

This article addresses the ongoing obesity epidemic and how this public health crisis is even more problematic in our post COVID era. It comments on how the internet is riddled with harmful and misleading health information when it comes to weight loss advice and discusses basic steps nurses and the public can take to to begin their weight loss journeys as well as various medical interventions that can be employed in the medical specialty of bariatrics. It will make clear that the best resource for safe weight loss advice is your licensed and credentialed healthcare team, not the internet. This article is being submitted as part of the current Allnurses article contest.

Overcoming obesity misinformation post-COVID

Obesity in the Digital Age: Let’s “Scale” Back the Misinformation

There is no question that in today’s digital age, the sheer quantity of health information available online can be confusing to sift through. With ever-increasing rates of obesity in the West, having trustworthy information on how to not only lose weight, but also successfully maintain weight loss is of paramount public health importance. Type a quick search into Google along the lines of “how to lose weight,” and one is met with a litany of different fad diets, workout programs, and nutritional supplements that claim to be the magic answer to your weight management woes. And unfortunately, some of these tips for weight control are not only just plain wrong, they are also potentially dangerous. Ever heard of a “healthy,” “gut restoring” juice cleanse? Well, I have, too. And for your sake as well as mine, I implore you NOT to do it!

This need for better weight loss guidance is even more prominent now that we have started to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic. One Harvard University study published in January of 2022 found that about 50% of people surveyed responded that “yes,” they had gained weight during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown. Add those extra pounds onto an already overweight/obese population, and I’m sure you can imagine how dire of a situation this has become since we know that obesity increases the risk for virtually all chronic health problems, including diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, and more.

So, how can we help ourselves and our patients?

Firstly, skip Dr. Google today. Second, call your primary care provider (PCP) to make an appointment. As a nurse practitioner who currently works in primary care, I love when patients of mine come in requesting to specifically talk about weight management. And as an aside, if for some reason your PCP doesn’t feel like engaging in a conversation about this, then I would say it’s about time to get a new doctor.

But getting back to the point. Your PCP is your starting point for any and all of your health concerns. Obesity is a serious medical problem, and this is something that a PCP can help you with. Most PCPs will generally recommend a healthy diet and exercise program, and of course, this is the mainstay of “treatment,” regardless of whatever other interventions or therapies are deemed appropriate for you. Your PCP can also refer you to a nutritionist or dietician to discuss what exact diet modifications may be suggested to help you achieve your weight goals. If all your PCP says is, “eat more fruits and veggies, increase lean protein, and limit carbs,” they are really doing you a disservice even though what they are saying is technically sound weight loss advice. This is because those suggestions are going to look different for people individually since each person is unique in their dietary preferences, budget, and culture, all of which affect food choices. Your PCP, in conjunction with a licensed nutritionist or dietician, is therefore going to be the best resource in formulating a realistic, sustainable, and unique eating plan for you. Furthermore, I always ask patients do you know how to read a food label? Do you know what a basal metabolic rate is? Do you understand the concept of a calorie deficit and why this is important to achieve and maintain weight loss? Filling these knowledge gaps is so incredibly important in empowering people to take charge of their weight loss journeys. And if you are reading some of these questions, even as a nurse, and find yourself saying, “I don’t know,” you are not alone.

Some second line, additional weight-loss therapies may include medication therapies that can help suppress hunger through various pharmacodynamic means. Phentermine, for instance, is a commonly used stimulant for this purpose. Some anti-hyperglycemics indicated for type two diabetes management, like semaglutide are also used off-label for weight loss purposes. Beyond medication, there are, of course, several bariatric surgeries that can be considered, but these are generally used as a last resort depending on the patient. Your PCP will help you decide what interventions beyond a healthy lifestyle may be safe for you to try. If your PCP office does not have some of these more advanced medical services on site, they will likely be able to refer you to a medical weight loss clinic that specializes in treating obesity. 

If you or someone you know is struggling with obesity, I encourage you and/or them to call a primary care doctor. While the internet may be able to provide you with some legitimate weight loss advice, it is littered with information that, in many ways, overcomplicates weight loss, even for us nurses who have excellent health literacy and pride ourselves on being able to understand and communicate health concepts to our friends, families, and patients. At the end of the day, in order to lose weight, you need to maintain a calorie deficit through a combination of eating a healthy diet and getting regular exercise, and the best place to seek out formal advice for what this will look like for you as an individual will be at your PCP office, at least as a starting point.

The health of the public (nurses included) has much to gain by losing some weight, so let’s scale back our utilization of the misinformation online and start some meaningful conversations with our healthcare providers, all while setting great examples for our patients so that collectively, our health will benefit!


References/Resources

Health Risks of Overweight & Obesity

COVID-19 pandemic and weight gain in American adults: A nationwide population-based study

Healthy Lifestyle Weight loss - Counting calories: Get back to weight-loss basics

Prescription Medications to Treat Overweight & Obesity

Tana Bao is a master's prepared family nurse practitioner, dual board certified through both the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners as well as the American Nurses Credentialing Center. She is licensed in the state of Massachusetts to practice as both an RN (since 2016) and APRN (since 2019). She has worked across several specialties of medicine, including family medicine/primary care, women's health, and sleep medicine. She now also writes professionally as a medical freelance writer supporting various clients and organizations in their missions to increase public health awareness of their respective causes.

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5 Comment(s)

Emergent, RN

Specializes in ER. Has 29 years experience. 2 Articles; 4,040 Posts

I would never in a million years go to a standard Health Care provider for nutritional advice. That is a good way to get outdated, misinformation.

Weetywill

Weetywill

Has 9 years experience. 147 Posts

I agree. The most basic is high calorie , high fat foods need to be replc3d with nutritional foods and snacks.  Weight loss will occure when the amount of calories consumed is less than the calories burned. 

Many examples of misinformation about diets and quick fix trends. There is also an emerging trend where some social media influences are claiming that someone who is very overweight is healthy. Where as it may be true to a small extent that very overweight people do not have any immediate presenting health problems, it definitely will cause health problems soon if the weight is not lost. 

From hypertension, diabetes, joint issues and even death. 

Social media has all sorts of misinformation unfortunately.  

Googlenurse

Googlenurse, ASN, BSN, RN

Specializes in Home Health,Peds. Has 18 years experience. 92 Posts

I am morbidly obese. I can’t stand medical providers that suggest low carb and Keto diets. For some reason, I’ve had four doctors trying to get me to go on those diets within the last year. 

Edited by Googlenurse

mtmkjr, BSN

380 Posts

Instead of telling people what they can and can't eat, my long-standing credo is just this:

  • eat when you're hungry
  • stop when full
  • eat foods as close to nature as possible

Surely overly simplistic for some, but it would help a lot of people.

The "clean your plate" rule runs counter to teaching children to pay attention to signals of hunger/fullness. 

Tegridy

Tegridy

Specializes in Former NP now Internal medicine PGY-3. 487 Posts

On 11/7/2022 at 9:33 AM, mtmkjr said:

Instead of telling people what they can and can't eat, my long-standing credo is just this:

  • eat when you're hungry
  • stop when full
  • eat foods as close to nature as possible

Surely overly simplistic for some, but it would help a lot of people.

The "clean your plate" rule runs counter to teaching children to pay attention to signals of hunger/fullness. 

For real people try to over complicate things. Just look up what a healthy diet is online and eat a net negative calorie balance. Anything more is complicating something simple. It’s more habit and willpower than eating specific things. 
 

aka stop eating little Debbie’s and big max’s and you will lose weight. I can’t even count how many morbidly obese patients say they do not each much, as if the laws of thermodynamics do not apply to them. 😒

Edited by Tegridy