Traverse City Record-Eagle

October 13, 2012

Survey: Doctors healthier than nurses

BY SHEFALI S. KULKARNI, Kaiser Health News

TRAVERSE CITY — Jennifer Lyon, D.O., has a busy schedule.

Besides working four full days a week at Creekside Clinic and Creekside Sports Medicine Institute in Traverse City, she's mom to two children, ages 2 and 5.

Still, she makes time to exercise.

"I go home, I make dinner, I get my kids in bed, and I go back and I take a dance class," she said. "I'm tired, too, but think the exercise gives you more energy and it gives you motivation to eat those whole foods and eat right."

It's a philosophy that she and colleagues try to impress on their patients. And it's a way of living that supports findings of a recent Gallup study that shows physicians appear to be in better health than other members of the workforce — even nurses.

Gallup interviewed more than 1,900 physicians and 7,100-plus nurses as part of their Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index. They compared the responses to others who were employed at the time to see how the health of medical workers stacked up.

The index was divided into physical health issues — which looked at obesity, illnesses that impede normal activities and the number of sick days taken in the past month — and healthy behaviors such as smoking, eating habits and exercise.

As far as self-reported healthy behaviors, less than 5 percent of the physicians responded that they were smokers, whereas 15 percent of nurses said they were. When asked if they ate healthy foods all day the previous day, 66 percent of physicians said they did compared to 59 percent of nurses. Under the physical categories, 13 percent of physicians reported they were obese compared to 25 percent of nurses and employed adults. The physicians' low rate of self-reported obesity trickled down into lower incidence of other health conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure and asthma.

The only metric where physicians scored poorly was related to cancer. Six percent of physicians reported they were diagnosed with some form of cancer, a higher rate than nurses and other workers. This finding, according to Gallup, could reflect "environmental and lifestyle factors unique to doctors,"but does not take into account doctors' vigilance in getting cancer screenings or whether they are more attuned to warning signs.

The health and well-being of physicians is a growing concern for health care experts. Medical groups like the American Medical Association focus on tools to reduce physician burnout, suicide and stress-related ailments as well as ensuring that doctors set good examples for their patients

"A physician's personal health is an important component of health promotion and disease prevention, because physicians are important role models for patients and their peers," said AMA Board Chair Dr. Steven J. Stack in a statement.

The Gallup data show that physicians are making healthier lifestyle choices, which can impact the care and education they deliver to their patients. Studies have shown that poor physician health leads to poor delivery of care. A January study from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health indicates that a doctor's weight can impact delivery of care and diagnoses for obesity.

"Physicians with normal (body mass index) also have greater confidence in their ability to provide diet and exercise counseling and perceive their weight loss advice as trustworthy when compared to overweight or obese physicians," according to the study's lead author Sara Bleich, PhD.

Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan health policy research and communications organization not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.