The Power of Language: How Doctors’ Words Impact Weight Loss Success and Patient Engagement

Published on November 7, 2023, 12:59 am

The Power of Language: How Doctors’ Words Impact Weight Loss Success and Patient Engagement

When it comes to helping patients lose weight, the tone and language used by doctors can make a big difference, according to researchers at the University of Oxford. In a new study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, academics found that patients were more likely to participate in weight-loss programs and achieve successful outcomes if their doctors presented treatments for obesity in an optimistic and positive manner.

The study examined patient encounters at 38 GP surgeries in England. Researchers listened to recordings of 87 different doctors discussing a free 12-week weight-loss program with their patients. The language used by the doctors was categorized into three approaches: “good news,” “bad news,” and “neutral.”

In the “good news” approach, doctors communicated positively and emphasized the benefits of weight loss. They presented the weight-loss program as an opportunity without dwelling on obesity or weight as a problem. The “bad news” approach focused on emphasizing the challenges of weight control and conveyed regret and pessimism. The “neutral” approach lacked any positive or negative features.

The results showed that patients who received the “good news” counseling approach experienced greater weight loss after one year compared to those who received either the “bad news” or “neutral” approaches. On average, individuals in the “good news” group lost 4.8kg, while those in the “bad news” group lost 2.7kg, and those in the “neutral news” group lost only 1.2kg.

The key factor driving this difference was the higher rate of enrollment in the weight-loss program among patients who received the “good news” approach. In fact, 87% of individuals in this group signed up for the program, compared to less than half in the other groups.

Dr. Charlotte Albury, lead author of the study, highlighted that subtle changes in communication can have a significant impact on patient outcomes even one year later. By framing conversations about weight loss as “good news” and emphasizing the benefits and opportunities, doctors can motivate patients to enroll in programs, attend sessions, and achieve better results.

This research reinforces the notion that words truly matter when it comes to healthcare. The findings demonstrate that using an optimistic tone and focusing on the positive aspects of weight loss can inspire patients to take action and improve their long-term health.

So, if you’re a doctor discussing weight with your patients, remember the power of language. By presenting weight loss as good news and an opportunity for positive change, you can empower your patients on their journey toward better health.