Obesity's Toll: 11 Million Doctor's Visits Yearly

A woman gets her blood pressure checked by a doctor.
(Image credit: Dragon Images/Shutterstock.com)

American adults may make 11 million visits to the doctor in a single year because of obesity, according to a new government report.

Researchers analyzed information about doctor's office visits in the United States in 2012, focusing on visits in which the doctor listed obesity among the conditions that were the reason for the visit.

The researchers found that for every 1,000 Americans age 20 and over, there were 49 doctor's visits for obesity that year. This translates to about 11 million visits, or 2 percent of all doctor's office visits in 2012, not including visits by pregnant or postpartum women, the researchers said.

Doctors were more likely to offer patients information on diet, nutrition, exercise and weight loss when they came in because of their obesity, compared with visits scheduled for other diagnoses, the report said. But still, such health education was not that common: Only about a third of visits for obesity included education on diet and nutrition, while 26 percent included weight-loss education, and 24 percent included exercise education, the data showed.

"While this type of education was offered relatively more often at visits for obesity [compared to visits for other diagnoses], it was offered at less than one-half of those visits," said Frances McCarty, a co-author of the report and a researcher at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Health Statistics.

"This finding can inform efforts in health care settings related to providing diet and nutrition, exercise, and weight-reduction health-education services, especially when obesity is a listed diagnosis," McCarty told Live Science in an email. [The Best Way to Lose Weight Safely]

One of the government's public health goals for the year 2020 is to increases the percentage of doctor's visits for obesity that include counseling or education on weight loss, nutrition or exercise.

The study also found that visits for obesity were more common among women: There were 60 visits for obesity per 1,000 women, compared to 37 visits per 1,000 men.

Nearly three-quarters of visits for obesity also listed another chronic condition — such as high blood pressure or diabetes — as a reason for the visit, the researchers noted.

The report is published today (March 3) by the National Center for Health Statistics.

Follow Rachael Rettner @RachaelRettner. Follow Live Science @livescience, Facebook & Google+. Original article on Live Science.

Rachael Rettner

Rachael is a Live Science contributor, and was a former channel editor and senior writer for Live Science between 2010 and 2022. She has a master's degree in journalism from New York University's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program. She also holds a B.S. in molecular biology and an M.S. in biology from the University of California, San Diego. Her work has appeared in Scienceline, The Washington Post and Scientific American.