The Power of Positive Language: How Physicians’ Approach Can Impact Weight Loss Outcomes

Published on November 7, 2023, 12:50 am

The Power of Positive Language: How Physicians’ Approach Can Impact Weight Loss Outcomes

An analysis of patient encounters at primary care clinics has revealed that using positive language when discussing weight loss can lead to better outcomes for patients. The study, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, found that patients were more likely to participate in and successfully lose weight through a recommended weight loss program when physicians presented treatments for obesity as an “opportunity” rather than focusing on the negative consequences or using neutral language.

International guidelines recommend that primary care clinicians screen for overweight and obesity and offer treatment opportunistically. However, little is known about effective strategies for discussing weight and offering treatment. To address this gap, researchers from the University of Oxford analyzed recordings of conversations between physicians and their patients regarding a 12-week no-cost behavioral weight loss intervention.

The study identified three approach types used by physicians during these conversations: the “good news” approach, the “bad news” approach, and the “neutral” approach. The “good news” approach, although the least common language style observed, communicated positivity and optimism. It focused on the benefits of weight loss and presented the weight loss program as an opportunity with very little mention of obesity or weight as a problem.

On the other hand, the “bad news” approach emphasized the problems associated with obesity. Physicians adopting this approach positioned themselves as experts, highlighting the challenges of weight control in a delivery that conveyed regret and pessimism. The most common observed approach was the “neutral” one, which lacked any positive or negative features.

The results showed that patients who received counseling with the positive “good news” approach had significantly higher weight loss after 12 months compared to those in the “bad news” and “neutral” groups. On average, they lost approximately 4.8 kg (10.6 lb), while those in the other two groups lost only 2.7 kg (6.0 lb) and 1.2 kg (2.6 lb), respectively.

The researchers believe that the higher weight loss observed in the “good news” group can be attributed to the higher enrollment rate in the 12-week weight loss program. In this group, 87% of participants attended the program, compared to less than half in the other two groups. However, regardless of how the initial counseling was delivered, weight loss outcomes among those enrolled did not substantially vary.

These findings highlight the importance of language and tone when discussing weight and offering treatment options for obesity. Patients respond better when they perceive weight loss as a positive opportunity rather than focusing on negative aspects. This research suggests that physicians should use a communication style that emphasizes the benefits of weight loss and motivates patients to participate in recommended programs.

By adopting a positive approach and presenting weight loss as an opportunity for improvement, healthcare providers can help patients achieve better outcomes in their weight loss journey. The study’s results provide valuable insights for clinicians and reinforce the significance of effective communication in promoting successful behavioral interventions for weight management.

For more information about this study, refer to:
– Relationship Between Clinician Language and the Success of Behavioral Weight Loss Interventions (Annals of Internal Medicine (2023). DOI: 10.7326/M22-2360)
– Conversations About Obesity and Weight: Good News We Can Use (Annals of Internal Medicine (2023). DOI: 10.7326/M23-2568)