The American Medical Association (search) has a message for the nation’s doctors: Shape up!

Six months ago, the AMA went public with the physician weight problem (search) when it announced that the obesity epidemic was raging among its members, especially members of the AMA’s policy-making body, the House of Delegates. AMA leaders told the delegates it was time to get serious about weight loss.

Clearly the battle of the bulge is no easier for doctors than it is for patients. On Monday, the AMA conducted an instant survey of about 496 delegates who are meeting here, and the survey results confirmed what is clear to the naked eye: only around a third of the doctors had a body mass index (search) (BMI) in the normal or underweight range, meaning a BMI of 24.9 or less.

By contrast, two-thirds were overweight or obese. Most were in the overweight category (BMI of 25 to 29.9). About a third of doctors who carry excess weight are obese (BMI of 30 or more).

The AMA says it is continuing an all-out campaign to rein in the spreading waistline of Americans. As a starting point, the AMA says it will work with school districts to increase physical education programs while working to eliminate junk food from school lunch menus and vending machines.

Moreover, the AMA says it will ask all of America’s doctors — not just the voting delegates — to start or continue fitness campaigns so that doctors can serve as fit and healthy role models for their patients.

One AMA delegate who has successfully met the AMA weight loss challenge is Andrew Gurman, MD, a surgeon from Altoona, Pa. “I went on the South Beach Diet last February and lost 97 pounds,” says Gurman. He says he went from “a BMI of 46 to 29.”

AMA Trustee Ronald Davis, MD, a preventive medicine specialist from East Lansing, Mich., tells WebMD that he thinks “physicians should strive to be good role models in all aspects of lifestyle. So not smoking, drinking in moderation, and proper nutrition as well as exercise are all important for physicians and our patients.”

Davis says that just as a doctor “who has smoke on his clothes or on his breath is less credible when counseling patients to stop smoking, an obese physician loses credibility when counseling patients to lose weight.”

Davis was one of the early leaders of the AMA’s stop smoking campaign, and he says the new anti-obesity campaign has many similarities. For example, he says it took time to build an anti-smoking constituency among AMA members, but once established the movement took off. He predicts that the weight loss campaign is likely to follow a similar path.

By Peggy Peck, reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD

SOURCES: American Medical Association 2004 Interim Meeting of the House of Delegates, Atlanta, Dec. 4-7, 2004. Ronald Davis, MD, East Lansing, Mich. Andrew Gurman, MD, Altoona, Pa.