For medical professionals, one of the hardest things is to communicate with individuals who face the risk of becoming obese and must lose weight to live a healthy and long life. Currently, two-thirds of people are obese or are running the risk of becoming obese in the future. With a high percentage of overweight patients, health care providers find that the ability to communicate with patients about this sensitive issue is crucial. 

This past Saturday,  the MacDonald Center For Obesity Prevention and Education at the University’s College of Nursing hosted a conference addressing this problem, providing health practitioners with support in improving communication and weight loss strategies for overweight adults and children.

“What’s happening with obesity is that people need to hear the same message, and they need to stop being confused by the media and other things that are getting them off track,” said Denice Ferko-Adams, MPH, RD, LDN, director of COPE and dietician with over 20 years of medical and research experience.  

“Patients need to understand that it is going to take time for their body to adjust. Once they lose that weight, their metabolic rate is lowered, but they still need to increase their activity.” 

For this reason, early intervention is often the best way to prevent obesity and restructure a family’s lifestyle into a healthy one.  However, these are difficult conversations to initiate with patients and their families. Thus, there are certain steps to be taken, and this weekend’s conference was an eye-opener for many medical professionals who need to learn how to create supportive environments for patients during the long and difficult process of adopting a healthy lifestyle.

The weekend kicked off on March 16 with a pre-conference called “Sharpen Your Social Media Skills Today,” presented by James Spellos, a seminar that assisted health care professionals in learning how to use social media with their clients. 

“Health professionals are often less willing to use social media, but with 50 percent of the world’s population under the age of 30, social media might be a way of contacting patients with the right information,” Ferko-Adams said. 

On Saturday,  the conference began with “Tough Talks: Communicate Effectively with Patients and Families” presented by Susan Cluett, CRNP,  who works with Children’s Fitness Clinic at the University of Virginia’s Hospital.  At this workshop, Cluett gave a unique perspective on the challenges she has faced communicating with her obese patients. 

Later during the day, a team from the University of Virginia led a session called “Pediatric Management: A Blueprint for Success” and shared with participants the strategies they used when working with weight management for patients from ages 2-18. 

“It is important to understand how to work with this age group because sometimes you encounter children as young as two or three with obesity issues,” Ferko-Adams said. “That is when it is important to know how to counsel the entire family on how to be motivated to make healthier decisions that will benefit everyone.”

Other sessions discussed the underlying connections between sleep apnea and diabetes, both which could be prevented through weight loss, and one final lecture presented by Ferko-Adams herself about long-term weight management. With the various events that took place this weekend, the conference provided medical professionals with an arrangement of methods on how to help patients prevent obesity and to lose weight in a healthy and productive way.

“We need the entire professional team integrated to be able to give patients the consistent message that weight loss will take time and patience,” Ferko-Adams said. “Losing weight takes time and support, and this conference will help us relate that message in a fruitful way.”  



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