Professor Dame Sally Davies told GP she was ‘perpetually surprised’ by how many NHS staff members were overweight.
Dame Sally said it was ‘human nature’ for patients to question what could be seen as hypocritical health advice from GPs.
‘I just think it makes it more difficult to get the message over,’ she said. ‘How are they going to have the impact on patients if they are not taking note and thinking about it for themselves?’
Dame Sally acknowledged that it was ‘very difficult for GPs, nurses and everyone in the community’ to remain healthy, but it was important to ensure patients took health messages seriously.
She said: ‘I think it’s great when staff in the NHS do set an example, and I am perpetually surprised by how many are overweight. It suggests they themselves haven’t taken on board the health messages and their employer is not supporting them enough to lose weight.’
But deputy GPC chairman Dr Richard Vautrey said overweight GPs may be more understanding of patients with weight problems.
He said: ‘GPs, like other healthcare professionals, try hard to practise what they preach. However, we all know how difficult it can be to lose weight, even with the best of intentions.
‘We should not be quick to judge those who are overweight but may actually be more empathetic with patients struggling to lose weight.’
On the issue of the UK’s burgeoning weight problem, Dame Sally said it was important for there to be 'open discussions in the community about weight and what normal weight is’.
Overweight becoming normalised
She said: ‘What I highlighted in this year’s annual report was that normal weight is now overweight and a high proportion of people don’t recognise they’re overweight.’
She emphasised that when dealing with overweight patients, GPs should not ‘fall into political correctness’.
They should instead feel obliged to discuss a patient’s weight, even during unrelated appointments.
‘[Obesity and being overweight] are the precursor of such dreadful ill health: diabetes, high BP and therefore stroke, fatty liver disease, and cancer rates are higher. We can’t afford to ignore it. As doctors, it is part of our duty to our patients.
‘I would hope that whenever people go in for another reason, they are weighed and at least given a quick word or offered another appointment to come and talk about it.’