Doctors laughed at the American Medical Association annual meeting when one of their own stood up Monday to admit his girth, but the subject was serious: physicians tackling the nation's obesity epidemic by addressing their own weight problems.
Dr. Michael Fleming - the Shreveport, La., family physician who prompted the chuckles Monday - said he has decided to wear a pedometer and take 10,000 steps daily. It is the same advice doctors give patients and a message the American Academy of Family Physicians is relaying to its more than 90,000 members so they can serve as role models.
Fleming, the academy president, was one of several doctors who talked of personal responsibility at a brainstorming session to help set the agenda for a fall AMA meeting on obesity.
The informational session came during the AMA's annual meeting. Delegates took action later Monday on several obesity-related measures, including agreeing to advocate for at least 30 minutes of daily free play or physical education in elementary schools. In place of a resolution seeking AMA support for restricting snacks and soda in schools, the delegates voted to reaffirm existing AMA policies on healthy eating and exercise for children, which a committee said captures the spirit of the resolution.
Delegates also voted to reject a measure seeking encouragement by state and local governments of exercise-friendly areas in cities nationwide, referring the issue to the AMA's fall obesity meeting.
The separate informational obesity discussion, which drew an overflow crowd of more than 150 doctors, harkened to the AMA's stand in 1968 urging doctors to quit smoking themselves and post no-smoking signs in their offices to set an example. The AMA is seeking to give obesity the same attention.
Fleming said he was motivated by the memory of watching a doctor tell Fleming's grandfather years ago to quit smoking - and then seeing the doctor put out his own cigarette.
Other doctors stood up to tell their own weight-loss stories - not mentioning how they slimmed down, but urging others to follow suit.
Dr. John Seibel said he has managed to go from a body-mass index of about 31 to 24. Anything over 30 is obese, while above 25 is considered overweight.
"I find it much easier now to talk to my patients" about obesity, said Seibel, of Albuquerque, N.M.
Dr. John Kelly, a 78-year-old obesity specialist from Rochester, N.Y., said he had gained weight after a stroke but now has an acceptable BMI of 25.
About half the doctors attending the session raised their hands when asked if they exercised 30 minutes most days.
Some of the doctors ate high-calorie sweet rolls and muffins provided at the hotel. One doctor took the microphone and said more healthful food should be served at such meetings to set an example.
"We should start with ourselves" and offer food like bran muffins "instead of the hyper-cholesterol meals," said Dr. Mary Ellen Bradshaw, a public health specialist from Arizona.
But Dr. Paul Handel of Houston told participants, "The obesity epidemic is not the fault of Krispy Kreme or McDonald's. Unless we rekindle some sense of personal responsibility ... 20 years from now we will still be struggling to treat" the problem.
By Lindsey Tanner