Can radiologists motivate patients to lose weight, improve their lifestyles?

Radiologists can help patients understand the significant hazards associated with obesity, according to a new commentary published in Academic Radiology.

“Some of obesity's features, such as increased abdominal girth and a double chin, are obvious to the unaided eye,” wrote authors Evan M. Rush, BS, and Richard B. Gunderman, MD, PhD, of the Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis. “Yet others, such as liver disease and osteoarthritis, are not so readily apparent and may be unknown or poorly understood by the general population. This is where radiology can contribute to public health education, by providing patients with real-life images that dramatize the health consequences of obesity.”

Rush and Gunderman noted that medical images can be used by radiologists, primary care physicians, nurses or even a patient’s family and friends to illustrate the many ways obesity affects a person’s body.

Why do the authors thing this could make a difference? They provided a similar example related to the health risks associated with smoking.

“Smokers may be told that they are 10–20 times more likely to develop lung cancer than nonsmokers,” Rush and Gunderman wrote. “A way to make such risks even more meaningful and thereby increase their deterrent effect is to provide patients with images of the conditions for which risk is increased. On cigarette packages, for example, some nations mandate not only verbal warnings but images of lesions such as lung cancer, and these campaigns have proved efficacious in enhancing knowledge of smoking's health effects, encouraging people to quit, and reducing smoking rates.”

Radiologists see the impact obesity has on patients all the time when viewing medical images—they can see the accumulation of fat, for instance—and by sharing their insight, the authors argued, there is potential to make a true impact and influence the health of their patients.

Of course, they added, “demonizing obesity” is not the way to go. You don’t want to make the patient so upset that they won’t listen to your point of view.