Research finds those unhappy with their weight have become ‘doctor-phobic’

  • 84% of people unhappy with their weight experience phobic symptoms ahead of visiting the doctor. 60% put off visiting a surgery unless they absolutely have to.

  • A separate survey of successful slimmers finds 75% feel no nerves ahead of visiting the doctor, and two-thirds now feel proud.

  • Shaun Carrington, 31, put off going to the doctors for years for fear of what he could be told. He’s now lost more than 20st, transformed his health as well as lowered his heart age.

Two-thirds of UK adults (65%) who are unhappy with their weight feel nervous ahead of visiting their doctor with 84% so anxiety-ridden that they experience phobic symptoms – including sweating, shaking and nausea, new research has revealed.

This doctor-phobia syndrome is so severe that, despite people who are unhappy with their weight worrying about their health on average once a day, 60% of them put off visiting the doctor unless they absolutely have to. More than one in ten of those unhappy with their weight would rather pick up a spider (13%) or touch a snake (12%) than pay a visit to their local surgery.

The survey of 2,051 people**, conducted by Censuswide, has been commissioned by weight-loss organisation Slimming World as part of their support of Public Health England’s Heart Age campaign in order to raise awareness of how losing weight can not only give people more confidence to see their doctor, it can also improve heart health and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Jenny Caven, Head of External Affairs
At Slimming World we know that a weight-related conversation between a health professional and a patient, when handled with the right levels of support, care and compassion, can often lead to life-changing results so we’d encourage anyone who is worried to seek help.
Jenny Caven, Head of External Affairs

The Heart Age campaign encourages adults to find their ‘heart age’ to understand more about their heart health, their risk of heart attack and stroke, and how to reduce this risk. People over 30 can find out their ‘heart age’ by taking a free, online test, which also suggests lifestyle changes that can be made to help reduce 'heart age'. It is estimated that around 50 people under the age of 75 in England could be saved from heart attack or stroke each day if they made important lifestyle and behaviour changes to improve their heart health.

The survey also found 44% of those who are unhappy with their weight feel nervous ahead of having their blood pressure taken. In England, one in four adults have been told they have high blood pressure yet a further 5.6 million are living with the condition undiagnosed potentially putting them at risk of a serious health condition.

Many people who say they are unhappy with their weight experience an anxiety-fueled physical reaction ahead of visiting their doctor, with one in four experiencing sweating (25%), and others suffering shaking (11%), nausea (13%) and hot or cold flushes (13%). Their reasons for dodging the doctor included fearing what they could be told (34%) and fearing they could be criticised about their weight (30%).

Losing weight, can not only improve someone’s heart age, lowering their risk of heart attack or stroke, it can also make a big difference to this desire to ‘doctor dodge’. A corresponding survey of slimmers*** found that 75% feel no nerves ahead of visiting the doctor since losing weight, 66% reported now feeling proud to visit their doctor and 65% now find health checks stress-free.

The survey of 2,400 Slimming World members found that just (13%) of people who have successfully lost weight feel nervous ahead of getting their health checked by the doctor. Some 59% have made an extra effort to get their blood pressure checked since losing weight and 87% agree that their Slimming World group has supported them to make healthy lifestyle changes.

From Doctor Dodger to life changer – Shaun lost nearly 21st and added years to his life

At his heaviest, Shaun Carrington weighed 33st and put off going to the doctors for years. He’s since lost 20st 12lbs with Slimming World, decreased his heart age by six years and no longer suffers from the back and joint pain, skin infections and breathing difficulties he once did. Shaun now runs his own Slimming World weight loss group and helps others to make healthy lifestyle changes. He says: “I constantly worried about what my weight was doing to my health – I just buried my head in the sand. I didn’t want to face the embarrassment of a doctor telling me I needed to lose weight or how my weight was increasing my chance of dying early. I didn’t want to be told I had to go on some restrictive diet where I lived on lettuce leaves and had to go to the gym every day, either.

‘My mum, Karen, became really concerned about my health. She’d lost 5st 12½lbs at her local Slimming World group. I decided to go along with her, and it turned out that was the best decision I’d ever made. I got a warm welcome and was made to feel completely at ease. Joining the group helped me discover a new love for cooking and I started making hearty meals like a full English breakfast, steak and chips and curry. With the support of my group I became more active, too, and took up cycling again – something I used to love.

“Now I feel proud to visit the doctors – I know how much better I feel and it’s incredible to think I’ve added lots more years to my life feeling this great too!”

Jenny Caven, Head of External Affairs at Slimming World, says: “It’s sad to know that people who struggle with weight put off getting their health checked for fear of feeling ashamed or worried about what they could be told. At Slimming World we know that a weight-related conversation between a health professional and a patient, when handled with the right levels of support, care and compassion, can often lead to life-changing results so we’d encourage anyone who is worried to seek help.

“Weight loss success is about making small and realistic changes to the way we shop, cook and eat, gradually building up daily activity and above all getting support to make realistic changes and stick with them.

“We’re encouraging everyone worried about getting their health checked to take PHE’s Heart Age Test. It will help you understand how your lifestyle is affecting your blood pressure and life expectancy, and, if necessary, help you to find the right support to make those all-important changes to living a longer, healthier life.”

As part of its support to the Heart Age campaign, Slimming World is offering discounts for group and online membership between 4th September and 2nd October 2018. People who complete the Heart Age Test and find that they could improve their heart health by losing weight will be invited to take advantage of the offers. To find out more visit: www.slimmingworld.co.uk/Heartage

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For more information on this press release contact Amy Williams on 01773 546170 or email amy.williams@slimmingworld.co.uk.

Slimming World was founded by Margaret Miles-Bramwell (OBE, FRSA) in 1969. There are now more than 18,000 weekly groups supporting 900,000 members across the UK and Republic of Ireland. Groups are run by a network of 5,000 community-based Slimming World Consultants, who receive specific training in the role of diet and physical activity in weight management, as well as sophisticated behaviour-change techniques. Slimming World’s healthy eating plan, Food Optimising, is based on the science of satiety and energy density. Our phased activity programme, Body Magic, eases members into activity until it becomes an intrinsic part of their daily routine. The principles behind Slimming World’s philosophy are based on a deep understanding of the challenges faced by overweight people and recognition that those who struggle with weight carry a double burden, the weight itself and a burden of guilt and shame about their weight. Slimming World’s programme integrates practical, up-to-date advice with a highly developed support system based on care and compassion, and Consultant training focuses on facilitating behaviour change in a warm and friendly group environment. Consultant training is delivered through the Slimming World Academy. Slimming World also invests in a comprehensive research programme to develop its support for long-term weight management. The group support provided by Slimming World is recognised as effective by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) and the NHS.

For more information about Slimming World’s approach visit www.slimmingworld.co.uk or call 0344 897 8000. Follow Slimming World on Twitter at www.twitter.com/slimmingworld or become a Slimming World fan on Facebook at www.facebook.com/slimmingworld 

For the Press Office please email amy.williams@slimmingworld.co.uk

Public Health England Notes to Editors

1) The Heart Age Test is simple way for people to find out more about their heart health PHE exists to protect and improve the nation’s health and wellbeing and reduce health inequalities. It does this through advocacy, partnerships, world-class science, knowledge and intelligence, and the delivery of specialist public health services. PHE is an operationally autonomous executive agency of the Department of Health. Follow us on Twitter @PHE_uk