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Who can diagnose and treat obesity?

Obesity can be diagnosed and treated by a number of different healthcare providers. The diagnosis of obesity is based on body mass index (BMI), which is gauged by a person's weight compared to their height. Usually primary care doctors (family medicine, internal medicine, pediatricians) begin treatment for obesity but if people are unresponsive to initial treatment, specialists, including surgeons can be involved.
The types of healthcare professionals you might consult to diagnose and treat obesity include:
  • An endocrinologist. Endocrinology is the field of medicine involving the body's chemical messengers, or hormones, and its biochemical control mechanisms, or metabolism. Endocrinologists are physicians who care for patients with complex hormonal disorders and metabolic conditions, including obesity, diabetes, thyroid disorders, metabolic bone disease, pituitary and adrenal conditions, as well as growth and gonadal disorders.
  • A registered dietitian. An RD is a dietitian who has completed academic and practice requirements established by the American Dietetic Association. These include a bachelor's degree, an accredited preprofessional experience program, successful completion of a national credentialing exam and ongoing continuing professional development. Many RDs also have a master's degree and advanced training in a nutrition subspecialty, such as diabetes.
  • A nutritionist. There is no accepted national definition for the title "nutritionist." Some states have a statutory definition of nutritionist stating that the registered dietitian (RD) credential is not required for certification as a nutritionist but is required for licensing as a dietitian. In general, the license or certification as a dietitian can be obtained with a bachelor's degree and a related supervised practice experience component (or proof of RD status with the Commission on Dietetic Registration), while the nutritionist licensure or certification typically requires a master's degree or higher.
Make sure any nutritionist you see is licensed by a state agency. Nutritionists, with educational background in foods and nutrition, and dietitians evaluate the diets and nutritional habits of clients and help structure more healthful eating patterns and weight-management strategies based on their patients' health needs, food selection and calorie goals. Nutritionists usually do not advise patients with chronic illnesses, disorders and other disease conditions.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.