- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 14, 2004


At 6 feet and about 265 pounds, Dr. Michael Fleming is obese, a fact that becomes awkward when he has to tell a patient to lose weight.

“It’s a little disingenuous to say, ‘I want you to do something I don’t do myself,’” said Dr. Fleming, a family physician in Shreveport, La.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese, including doctors, the very people offering guidance on healthy living.

But for Dr. Fleming, who has been overweight since childhood, being overweight is not only unhealthy for him, but it also makes the profession look bad. As president of the 94,000-member American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), he’s doing something about it.

Since October, when Dr. Fleming began his one-year term, he has lost about 25 pounds by managing his diet and staying more active. He’s challenging academy members to get in shape themselves and attending regional meetings to enlist them.

To gauge what shape the membership is in, the academy is taking a survey of members’ exercise patterns as well as heights and weights.

Obesity is measured with a height-to-weight ratio called the body-mass index. A BMI of 30 is obese — for someone 6 feet tall like Dr. Fleming, a healthy weight would be below 184 pounds, which would reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and some cancers.

The academy is not recommending a diet and exercise program, figuring that the members know enough to be able to choose their own.

But Dr. Fleming does want his colleagues to enroll in the active-lifestyle program of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, which asks participants to commit to some type of physical activity at least 30 minutes a day, five days a week, for six straight weeks.

Dr. Fleming, who leads a busy professional life that makes weight control a struggle, said he intends to keep up the diet and exercise regimen for at least another year, until he loses the 80 pounds that have put him above the healthy-weight range.

The academy’s “physician heal thyself” drive kicks off what the AAFP hopes will be a 10-year campaign it calls Americans in Motion, to spread the message of healthy eating and exercise to patients, who make more than 210 million office visits each year.

“As we developed this, we felt that unless we look at ourselves and how we deal with our own fitness, it’s not going to be easy to get it across to patients,” said Dr. Tim Tobolic, of Byron Center, Mich., a member of the advisory committee that is planning the campaign.

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