Vital Signs. You can be sure these standard measurements of our most basic body functions (body temperature, pulse rate, blood pressure and respiratory rate) will be taken on just about every visit you pay to a physician. And with good reason. These metrics tell your doctor a lot about your overall health. If you’re body temperature is high, it may be the sign of an infection that needs further investigation. Or perhaps your blood pressure is creeping up, signaling issues with your heart that should be looked into. No matter the outcome, these vital sign metrics have become the standard of care because we KNOW they’re important in assessing human wellness. With that understanding in mind, I offer that BMI–a measurement for body fat based on an individual’s weight and height, be added as a standard “vital sign” measurement.

Time after time, science has studied and proven that the greater the BMI, the more at risk an individual is to a host of medical problems including diabetes, cancer, heart disease, stroke, depression, and the list goes on. Given these facts and proven studies, it seems appropriate, even essential to add a BMI measurement to a patient’s overall health assessment. So why don’t more doctors offices do it? Well, the answers can be complicated and varied but among the most common: Fear of offending patients.

You see, we doctors are people too. Most of us don’t set out to be offensive, it isn’t in our nature. For some reason, many have tied the overweight/obesity conversation to an uncomfortable, off-limits topic. As a physician who has cared for severely obese people during the majority of my surgical career, you could say I’ve learned how to talk to “them.” The secret to this skill? I talk to patients who are overweight and obese the way I talk to ANY other patient–with candid dialogue that includes listening, compassion and respect. It’s really that simple.

Adding BMI to a patient’s vital signs assessment removes the stigma from the conversation. Like blood pressure and heart rate, it simply becomes another important measurement that addresses overall health and allows physicians and their patients to openly converse about the topic of obesity. This way, it isn’t the physician assessing a patient based on the visual of their size, but rather the meaningful metric that indicates further medical investigation and treatment may be necessary.

If you’re overweight and wondering whether it’s affecting your overall health, talk to your doctor. Don’t wait for him/her to start the conversation. Doctors are on the right path to opening up to the obesity conversation with patients, but it can still be a delicate subject for some. Patients and physicians working together to create healthier lives is what medicine is all about. And we all have a responsibility to make that happen–guaranteeing our next generation of doctors and patients has open and honest dialogue about obesity as soon as signs present it as a potential health risk. The sooner, the better.