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Optometrists: Addressing weight and eye health issues with patients

addressing weight and eye health issues with patientsObesity has reached an epidemic. Optometrists are acutely aware that this condition, combined with age, can affect vision in a most profound way. But many eye care providers express hesitancy in addressing this subject with their overweight patients. Many will admit to ignoring the topic all together for fear of upsetting the patient. However, as primary eye care providers, optometrists have a real opportunity to not only support patients but empower them in their quest for optimal vision quality.

For Kimberly Reed, an OD who also serves as Director of the Nutrition and Eye Care Service of NSU, this tender topic is one she tackles each day.

“It’s very intimidating,” she said. “Most people are very sensitive about their weight but the one thing you have to bear in mind is that there is a different relationship that you have with your patient than you might have with a sibling, neighbor, or friend.”

Reed teaches courses in anterior segment disease, ocular pharmacology, and nutrition. She is also the treasurer of the Ocular Nutrition Society, and Chair of the AAO Nutrition, Wellness, and Disease Prevention Special Interest group. She also writes and lectures extensively regarding nutrition, lifestyle, and disease prevention. But even Reed admits that discussing weight with patients can be a tough conversation to initiate. So what advice does she give doctors to approach this sensitive topic?

“What I typically do to start the conversation is to say, ‘If we can balance your height and your weight to a little healthier level it will reduce your risk, not only of eye disease but other diseases you’re already fighting. I’m sure you’ve already tried to address this. Tell me what you’ve tried and what has worked and not worked.” she said.

According to Reed, that message resonates.

“It’s that step when you say ‘I feel. I understand, I know this is a battle that you’ve been fighting’,” she says. “That’s when the patient knows you’re compassionate and caring about them and you’re not judging them.”

Reed said patients appreciate when a health care provider approaches the subject from a place of genuine concern.

“My personal experience has been when I broach this subject in a very supportive, compassionate way, those patients are my most loyal. They are usually so relieved to have someone ask them about it or talk to them about it that the floodgates open. And it’s a very emotional experience for them. So it isn’t easy.”

A patient’s emotional experience can forge positive ground for both the patient and the doctor.

“I’ve had tears in the room. But then after the tears, I have had every member of that family insist on seeing me and only me. And I think that’s something from a practice management standpoint: we need to actually embrace this rather than shy away from it.”

Listen to Dr. Reed’s fascinating lecture on Obesity in the Optometric Practice: Nutrition and Lifestyle Counseling. Learn more about the impact eye care practitioners have in managing these life-threatening diseases and what nutritional measures she recommends to her patients.