Often I get asked the question: can chiropractors help patients deal with obesity?
I understand why the question comes up. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2010 approximately 35.7 percent, or more than one-third of all U.S. adults, were obese.
Obesity is not only common, but also carries serious health issues and costs. According to Health Affairs, in 2008, medical costs associated with obesity were estimated at $147 billion, and individual medical costs for people who are obese were $1,429 higher than those of normal weight.
Even given how pervasive obesity is, my answer to the question of whether chiropractors can help with obesity is not a simply yes or no.
The traditional chiropractor’s role is not to help a person lose weight
Let me make this clear. Some chiropractors have specialized training in health and wellness, which could include weight loss and diet. They provide these services and are paid for them. However, traditional chiropractors – and this represents the majority of them – are paid to diagnose and treat conditions that arise from problems with the spine and spinal alignment, and its impact on the nervous system. These traditional chiropractors do not have specialized training on health and wellness and are not paid for health and wellness services or to put a person on a weight-loss diet.
That said, chiropractors see a lot of patients who have spine problems, such as sore backs or joint pain, that are made worse because the patients are obese. To say it another way, when a chiropractor is helping someone who is obese, the patient’s stress on their spine from excess weight may not make it possible to relieve their pain, especially over the long term.
But the chiropractor can indirectly help in weight loss
Sometimes there is an indirect but positive impact from chiropractic care on the patient’s weight. Chiropractic adjustments help increase the range of motion in the back, hip, knees and other joints – a major help to those suffering with obesity. By helping to restore a person’s mobility, we make exercise more realistic for those experiencing obesity-related pain. Exercise and activity can help with weight management.
Some chiropractic offices have started offering Yoga and Pilates classes to patients to enhance flexibility and promote physical activity. Again, indirectly, this can encourage weight loss.
The costs of America’s obesity epidemic – physical, emotional and financial–will continue to grow until prevention and treatment measures are effectively implemented through a combination of patient education, patient engagement and on-going support.