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Lose weight - How your GP can help

NHS Choices Feature

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Your GP can help you to achieve a healthy weight, and enjoy the health benefits that it will bring

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Being overweight can seriously affect your health. If you're overweight, you're more likely to develop health problems such as heart disease, a stroke and type 2 diabetes.

Most overweight people are overweight because they consume more energy than they use through physical activity. This means that the best way to lose weight is to make achievable, long-lasting changes to your eating and physical activity habits.

If you've tried changing your diet and physical activity habits but are finding it difficult to lose weight, a trip to your GP could help. This is what you should expect.

Assessing your weight

First, your GP or practice nurse will want to assess whether your current weight is healthy or not. This means measuring your weight and height to calculate your body mass index ( BMI).

Your BMI indicates whether you are a healthy weight for someone of your height. A healthy BMI for adults is between 18.5 and 24.9. A BMI of 25 or above means that you're overweight.

Measuring your waist

Your GP or practice nurse may measure your waist.

Your waist circumference can indicate whether your weight is putting you at risk of health problems, such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease. You can learn more by reading Why body shape matters.

Other tests

Your GP may take your blood pressure and carry out other tests, such as a blood test, to check for any health conditions that may be related to your weight.

Achieving a healthy weight

If you're overweight, changes to your diet and physical activity levels are the first step to helping you lose weight.

Your GP can help you to assess your current diet and levels of physical activity, and set goals for change.

Your diet

Nottingham GP Dr Ian Campbell, from charity Weight Concern, says that the best way to assess your diet is by keeping a food diary - a written record of everything you eat - for one week.

This can help you and your GP identify habits, such as adding sugar to your tea, that you can change.

Exercise

Your physical activity levels can be measured with an activity diary.

Your GP may also suggest that you wear a pedometer for a week. A pedometer measures the number of steps you take and gives an indication of your daily activity levels.

Setting goals

Once your GP has a clearer picture of your diet and level of physical activity, they can help you identify simple lifestyle changes.

"It's important that the patient decides what changes they're going to make," says Dr Campbell. "That way, they're more likely to stick to them. I usually get them to agree to three reasonable goals."

This could be cutting down on alcohol, eating a healthy breakfast and incorporating physical activity into your daily routine.

Your GP should offer you regular follow-up appointments, usually every two weeks to a month, to monitor your progress.

Other weight loss services

Your GP may refer you to other services, such as local weight loss groups. These could be provided by the NHS, or may be commercial services that you pay for.

"Having support from other people in your situation can really motivate you to lose weight," says Dr Campbell.

If it's appropriate, your GP may recommend exercise on prescription, where you are referred to a local active health team for a number of sessions, under the supervision of a qualified trainer. Depending on where you live, the exercise programme may be free or at a reduced cost. There may also be other physical activity opportunities that your GP could point you to.

Weight loss medicines

If you've made changes to your diet and levels of physical activity but you're not losing a significant amount of weight, your GP may recommend medicines that can help.

Medicines are only used if your BMI is at least 30, or 28 if you have a weight-related condition, such as type 2 diabetes or high blood pressure.

Currently, the only medicine prescribed for weight loss is Orlistat. For more information on weight loss medication, see Obesity: treatment.

Weight loss surgery

If lifestyle changes and medicines don't work, your GP may talk to you about weight loss surgery.

To qualify for weight loss surgery, clinical guidance states you must have a BMI of at least 40, or 35 if you have a weight-related health condition, such as type 2 diabetes or high blood pressure. However, your local PCT will have criteria that you will need to meet before you can be considered for surgery.

People with a BMI of 40 or above may find it extremely difficult to lose weight, and surgery can be effective for these people. However, it is a major procedure that comes with health risks of its own.

You can find out about the different types of weight loss surgery in Obesity: surgery.

Medical Review: March 25, 2012

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