An Australian National University academic and Woden GP is behind a new program being rolled out across Australia which uses psychological techniques, collaborative goal setting and a big dose of practicality to help people battling obesity.
Dr Liz Sturgiss and a team from the ANU Medical School have worked hard to develop a change program for local GPs to use with their patients which avoids the community stigma often associated with obesity and leads to long-term lifestyle changes.
The program for GPs to use with their patients is the first of its kind in Australia and has been successfully trialled by four Canberra practices and one rural NSW practice – involving a total of 12 GPs and 23 patients.
It took five years to develop and includes a how-to workbook which covers practical steps on nutrition, exercise, goal-setting, wellbeing and meal plans.
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The workbook includes setting realistic fun exercise goals, a regular pantry stocktake, relapse troubleshooting and a nutrition diary.
Dr Sturgiss said the program looks at things such as a patient’s environment at home and at work, barriers and enablers in their lives, mindful eating, and the internal monologue and negative thoughts people can have.
It recognises how difficult it is for people to lose weight given “our bodies are primed to keep weight on”.
She said that during the trial, the page of the workbook which drew the most positive response dealt with hormonal changes and why it is so hard to keep weight off.
A missing link in obesity management
Dr Sturgiss said the program provides a bridge for GPs from current guidelines to working with a patient in daily practice.
“GPs know the whole picture of a patient and their family and can look at obesity holistically.
“For patients that want the option of working with their GP, this program provides the resources to do it.
“Patients have established trusting relationships with their GP and that viewpoint could be a missing link in obesity management.
“We have purposely put this program within general practice because it is where people go in an ongoing way for their healthcare. More than 85 per cent of people see a GP at least once a year,” said Dr Sturgiss.
“Now doctors and patients will be able to work together towards sustainable changes to help patients reduce weight and improve their health generally.”
Program rolled out to Canberra GPs early next year
The rollout of the change program to Australian GPs has already started with the Capital Health Network planning to roll it out to all Canberra GPs early next year.
Dr Sturgiss said that during the trial, a third of patients lost five per cent or more of their body weight and saw benefits to their quality of life. Importantly, GPs grew in confidence in assisting patients battling with obesity.
Crace GP saw patients lose 5-8 kilos
Canberra GP, Dr Melian Deery, from YourGP in Crace was among the GPs who trialled the program with patients.
“It was designed by GPs for GPs, so it is a really great tool for us to use with patients,” said Dr Deery.
“Through the project, we helped a number of patients lose between five to eight kilos, which is a significant amount of weight and we’ve continued to use the skills we’ve learned to support our patients to lose weight.
“GPs are very accessible and well-placed to help patients with obesity and this program is a way for us to do that well.”
Dr Sturgiss said the program has transformed the National Health and Medical Research Council’s guidelines on weight loss into action.
“The NHMRC have fantastic guidelines for GPs that describe what to do but this program shows doctors and patients how to do it,” Dr Sturgiss said.
“It is not a fad diet, it is about serious lifestyle change and things you can do on an ongoing basis.”