Who Treats Obesity?

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: June 2023

Obesity is a global health concern that affects millions of people worldwide. In the United States, about 4 in 10 adults either are overweight or have obesity.1

Obesity is caused not just by calories in versus calories out. Many causes and risk factors play a part in whether someone develops obesity, like:1

  • Genetics
  • Food and physical activity
  • Health conditions
  • Medicines
  • Emotional factors
  • Environment

Addressing this complex medical issue requires a multidisciplinary approach. This means that more than 1 health professional will be involved in a person’s weight loss treatment journey.1,2

Obesity treatment may include the following specialists:1,2

  • Primary care providers (doctors, nurse practitioners, physician’s assistant)
  • Bariatric healthcare providers (bariatricians)
  • Registered dietitians
  • Endocrinologists
  • Psychologists/counselors
  • Bariatric surgeons

Primary care providers

Primary care providers are often the first point of contact for people seeking weight loss treatment. During an initial visit, they may perform a physical exam and certain tests. This helps them understand your medical history and any underlying medical conditions affecting your weight gain.2,3

Depending on their findings, they may:3

  • Give you advice about diet and exercise
  • Prescribe medicines if appropriate
  • Refer you to other specialists as needed

Bariatric healthcare providers

Many people who want to lose weight go right to a provider who specializes in obesity. These specialists are called bariatric healthcare providers, or bariatricians.3

A bariatrician will conduct a health screening for obesity, which can include:2,3

  • Taking a detailed health history, going over any symptoms you may have
  • Performing a physical exam
  • Measuring your waist circumference
  • Calculating your body mass index (BMI), which takes into account your height and weight
  • Performing certain blood tests to check cholesterol, lipid, and blood glucose levels

Registered dietitians

A registered dietitian (RD) is a trained professional who specializes in food and nutrition. RDs play a vital role in weight loss treatment. They provide expert guidance on healthy eating habits, meal planning, and portion control.4

When you meet with a dietitian, you receive a personalized nutrition assessment. During these visits, you might tell them about:4

  • Your current eating habits (what you eat, when you eat, eating patterns, etc.)
  • Foods you like and dislike
  • Any medical conditions you might have

Based on this information, a dietitian can create a tailored meal plan for you. The plan will likely focus on nutrient-rich foods and calorie moderation.4

RDs also offer support and education to help you make lifestyle changes that will last. They can address challenges such as emotional eating or binge-eating. And they can give you strategies to overcome them.4

Endocrinologists

Sometimes, hormonal imbalances can lead to weight gain. Endocrinologists are doctors who specialize in hormones and metabolism. If you have a weight-related disease or obesity, they can help address any hormonal imbalances. They can also evaluate you for potential hormonal disorders that may lead to weight gain, like:5

  • Hypothyroidism – A condition in which the thyroid gland is underactive, which could lead to metabolism problems
  • Cushing’s syndrome – A hormonal disorder in which the body produces too much of the stress hormone cortisol

Psychologists and Counselors

Weight issues are often tied to emotions. It is important to address your mental health if you want to achieve healthy and long-term weight loss. Psychologists and counselors can help you understand and change behaviors, emotions, and thought patterns that may hinder weight loss efforts.6

Counselors can help you address underlying causes of obesity. These may include stress, trauma, or mental health disorders. They can provide guidance on:6

  • Developing coping mechanisms
  • Having a healthier relationship with food
  • Managing emotional triggers

One way psychologists and counselors do this is through cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT for weight management can help you change negative thoughts and behaviors related to food and body image. The ultimate goal is to foster a healthier mindset around food for long-term weight management.7

Bariatric surgeons

In cases of severe obesity or when other weight loss methods have not worked, bariatric surgery may be an option. Bariatric surgeons perform surgeries to help people achieve major weight loss. They work closely with dietitians, psychologists, and other weight loss experts who make up a bariatric care team.3,8

Before bariatric surgery, you go through an evaluation. This helps your doctor decide whether the procedure is right for you and your lifestyle. The evaluation may include:3,8

  • Medical tests
  • Psychological assessments
  • Consultations with other weight loss specialists

Bariatric surgeons perform many types of weight loss surgeries, such as:9,10

  • Gastric bypass
  • Gastric sleeve or sleeve gastrectomy
  • Biliopancreatic Diversion with Duodenal Switch (BPD-DS), or gastric band
  • Stomach intestinal pylorus sparing surgery (SIPS)
  • Intragastric balloon

These procedures help reduce the amount of food your stomach can hold as well as its ability to absorb nutrients. This leads to reduced calorie intake and weight loss.9

After surgery, your bariatric surgeon and bariatric care team will monitor you closely. This involves:9

  • Regular checkups to make sure you are healing and recovering
  • Dietary guidance to make sure you are getting adequate vitamins and nutrients from the foods you eat
  • Blood work to check your vitamin and mineral levels

A comprehensive approach

Treating obesity requires a comprehensive and multidisciplinary approach. By working together, healthcare professionals can give you the support, education, and tools you need to reach and maintain a healthy weight.1

If you have obesity or weight concerns, reach out to your doctor. They can help you begin your weight loss journey and explore your treatment options.

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