Which Doctors Treat Obesity?

Medically Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on March 13, 2024
5 min read

Obesity is a serious health condition in which your body fat is at a level that negatively affects your overall health. The American Medical Association officially started calling it a disease in 2013. Obesity affects more than 100 million adults and almost 15 million children in the United States. 

If you have obesity, you know it isn’t fixed in just two easy steps of eating less and exercising more. While some people do think obesity is a choice, it’s nowhere near as simple as that. That’s why doctors who specialize in obesity are trained to help you in many ways. They can work with you to come up with a plan that can include diet, exercise, medicines, and behavior changes to meet your specific goals and needs. And if you need surgery, they can send you to a doctor who does weight loss operations. 

Obesity-focused doctors make treatment plans that target the reasons behind your condition. Your mental health may also need attention, since many people with obesity struggle with depression.

If obesity is not treated, it can cause you to have other medical conditions, including: 

  • Diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • High blood pressure
  • Arthritis
  • Sleep disorders
  • Certain cancers

Doctors who treat obesity include:

 Your primary health care provider. Your primary care doctor can be your first stop in talking about your obesity concerns. They can help you figure out whether you have obesity or pre-obesity. Your doctor can measure your body mass index and even come up with a treatment plan. But not every primary health care provider has had specific training for that. Some primary doctors might refer you to a specialist. 

An obesity specialist. Obesity specialists use a broad approach to create personalized treatment. That can include anti-obesity medicine, nutrition education, changes in behavior, exercise plans, and therapies that don’t require major surgery. They might work with your primary health care provider, a dietitian, or a specially trained therapist to manage your weight in a team approach. 

A bariatrician. Also known as bariatric health care providers, bariatricians are doctors who treat obesity along with any related health conditions you may have at the same time. They aim to help manage your weight without surgery. Bariatricians will create a plan that can include counseling on eating, exercise, changes in behavior, and medication.

A bariatric surgeon. A bariatric surgeon performs weight loss operations, including gastric bypass, gastric sleeve, laparoscopic band, and duodenal switch. One of these surgeries may be an option if diet and exercise haven’t worked, or if you have health issues because of your weight.

Your primary care doctor may be able to help you reach your weight goals. If that’s not the case, you can ask to be referred to an obesity specialist or bariatrician. With their special training, they can understand your condition well, and you may find them to be more understanding.

Some people with obesity make their bariatric health care provider their primary doctor. 

Your obesity health care specialist or bariatrician can come up with an individualized treatment plan that focuses on the primary areas of weight loss. This plan can include:

Nutrition and diet. An obesity specialist can suggest that you limit unhealthy foods and focus on including important nutrients in your diet like lean protein, vegetables, fruits, and water. You may talk with a registered dietitian, certified nutrition specialist, or a certified clinical nutritionist to educate you on nutrition and come up with a plan for preparing food based on your needs, goals, and skills. 

You may go through multiple diets to find the one that brings you the best results. 

Exercise. Physical activity is important for weight management. Obesity specialists will tell you to start slow and not rush into high-intensity workouts. They can help you set a goal for what you can do and how long you can do it. Exercise can include cardio and strength training. This helps boost your metabolism and build muscle mass, both of which help burn fat. 

Some people – especially if they haven’t exercised regularly – may be a bit nervous about working out. But experts say it’s just about getting your body moving. Walking is great, and even things like cleaning the house or doing yardwork count as physical activity. 

Changes in behavior. Behavior changes can help you figure out habits that are driving obesity and find ways to break the pattern. You can learn about mindful eating – fully focusing on your food as you cook and eat it while taking away distractions around you. You may also work on building a healthy relationship with food – as nutrition for your body, instead of a reward or a way to deal with emotional issues. 

Medicine. Obesity specialists may prescribe a weight loss drug if you haven’t been able to lose weight by changing your diet and exercising and if: 

  • Your BMI is more than 30.
  • Your BMI is 27 or higher, and you have health issues related to obesity, such as diabetes or high blood pressure. 

Your obesity specialist will help you choose a medication that best fits you with the fewest side effects. 

Surgery. Weight loss surgery changes your digestive system to help you lose weight. It’s usually done if diet and exercise haven’t worked and you have other health problems. Some surgeries limit the amount of food you eat. Others cut down on how much fat and calories your body can absorb. Some operations do both. 

Major surgery does have risks. And you have to make changes to your diet and get exercise to make sure the surgery’s effects last long term.

Obesity affects about 4 in 10 adults in the U.S. So it has to be treated seriously by a doctor trained to treat it as the disease it is. 

People with obesity can often feel judged by their doctor. And studies have shown that some medical professionals have negative attitudes about people with obesity. Find a doctor who specializes in obesity and fully understands the condition. They should also have compassion to make you feel comfortable enough to talk about the condition and be a partner on your health journey.