Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving

Should doctors have to be “healthy”?

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While the question of whether doctors should be “required” to be healthy is an interesting one, I think that it’s the wrong question to be asking.

When looking at “health” this article focused solely on several health behaviours including being obese, smoking, or having a prescription drug problem. It’s my understanding that in any profession if a person is experiencing an addiction that affects their abilities to perform the duties of their job that they should be relieved of those duties until they are able to manage them again. Smoking and being obese are two different stories. Smoking is an unhealthy habit that in this day and age no one should be engaging in. However, I don’t think that smoking necessarily impacts a persons ability to do their job unless they’re an athlete or a trombonist. Obesity is a whole other kettle of fish.

Obesity is not a health behaviour. It may be the result of certain behaviours, medical conditions, or medications. While obesity is linked to many chronic diseases it’s not necessarily unhealthy in and of itself. It’s also not the only measurement of health.

If we’re going to punish doctors for engaging in unhealthy behaviours then we should be revoking the licences of those who drink alcohol, eat trans-fats, don’t wear a seatbelt, drive more than 10 km an hour over the speed limit, sit for the majority of the day, are anorexic, don’t wear a helmet when biking or skiing, and so on. You get the point, right? It’s about engaging in unhealthy behaviours, not about the outcome of that behaviour; especially when it can result from circumstances other than lifestyle choices.

If we’re going to say that doctors who are obese can’t practice then we should be saying that doctors who have lung cancer can’t practice, not those who smoke. Which is utterly ridiculous.

I’ll admit that I find it somewhat worrisome that doctors who are overweight are less likely to broach the subject of a patients weight with them. If someone’s weight is having negative consequences to their health then their doctor should absolutely be discussing it with them. That being said, the article focuses on doctors providing dietary advice. Something the vast majority of them are ill-equipped to do. How about referring to dietitians, the regulated healthcare professionals who are experts on food and nutrition. Novel idea, I know.

Finally, I like the points that the author of the article made that doctors are facing the same life stresses as the rest of us. Instead of blaming them for making poor life choices we should be making working conditions such that it’s easier for them to make healthy choices. The same should be said for all professions. We need to get away from the notion that productivity is related to being tethered to a desk and a screen and create workplaces that foster healthy employees.

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Author: Diana

I'm a registered dietitian from Nova Scotia, living and working in Ontario, Canada. My goal is to help people relearn how to have a healthy relationship with food.

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