The Power of Positive Language: How Doctors Can Motivate Patients to Lose Weight

Published on November 8, 2023, 12:43 am

The Power of Positive Language: How Doctors Can Motivate Patients to Lose Weight

When doctors advise patients to lose weight, the way they approach the conversation can have a significant impact on the results. According to a recent study conducted by researchers at the University of Oxford, patients were more likely to participate in and successfully complete a weight-loss program if their doctors presented obesity treatments as an “opportunity” rather than focusing on the negative consequences or using neutral language.

International guidelines recommend that primary care doctors screen patients and offer treatment for those who are overweight or obese. However, this study sheds light on the importance of how doctors communicate with their patients regarding weight loss.

The researchers analyzed recordings of doctor-patient conversations at 38 primary care clinics. These conversations revolved around a free, 12-week behavioral weight-loss intervention program. The researchers specifically looked for relationships between the language used during these visits and patient behaviors such as program participation and weight loss outcomes.

The study authors identified three different approaches used by doctors in these discussions: the “good news” approach, the “bad news” approach, and the “neutral” approach.

The “good news” approach was found to be the most effective. It involved presenting weight loss as an opportunity for positive change and emphasizing its benefits. Doctors using this approach made minimal mention of obesity or body mass index (BMI) as problems, focusing instead on smooth and quick delivery of information with enthusiasm.

On the other hand, the “bad news” approach emphasized the problem of obesity, with physicians asserting themselves as experts. They highlighted challenges related to weight control while conveying pessimism and regret.

The most commonly observed approach was the “neutral” one, which neither conveyed positivity nor negativity about weight loss.

Participants who received counseling using the “good news” approach achieved the highest amount of weight loss over a year-long period. On average, they lost around 10.6 pounds compared to 6 pounds in the “bad news” group and only 2.6 pounds in the “neutral” group.

The greater weight loss in the “good news” group seemed to be driven by higher enrollment rates in the 12-week weight-loss program. Approximately 87% of individuals who received positive and optimistic counseling attended the program, whereas fewer than half of those in the other groups participated.

It is important to note that regardless of the initial counseling approach used, participants’ weight-loss outcomes did not vary significantly.

These findings highlight the importance of adopting an optimistic and encouraging approach when discussing weight loss with patients. By presenting weight loss as an opportunity rather than a problem and focusing on its benefits, doctors can motivate their patients to participate actively in weight-loss programs and achieve more successful outcomes.

In conclusion, when doctors take an optimistic approach and present obesity treatments as opportunities for positive change, patients are more likely to participate in weight-loss programs and achieve better results. Effective doctor-patient communication plays a crucial role in empowering patients to take control of their health and make lasting lifestyle changes.