There Aren't Enough Specialists To Treat Our Growing Obese Population

Especially in the South.
Rostislav_Sedlacek via Getty Images

There are currently fewer than 6,000 endocrinologists in the U.S., according to a new analysis, confirming a health care shortage that's particularly distressing in light of this month's report that obesity rates are once again on the rise. A full 38 percent of U.S. adults are now considered to be obese, up from 32 percent of adults a decade ago, and another third are overweight.

Obesity has been linked to an increased risk of myriad diseases and conditions, including heart disease, stroke and diabetes, raising additional concern about whether or not there are enough specialized physicians to address an increasingly unhealthy population. Endocrinologists specialize in managing hormonal conditions such as diabetes and hypothyroidism, both of which can lead to weight gain.

"This phenomenon is the culmination of years of constant increase in the prevalence of diabetes and obesity, with little addition to the endocrinology workforce," Dr. Armand Krikorian, an endocrinologist at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Illinois, told The Huffington Post.

Krikorian led a group of researchers in analyzing the problem for Doximity, relying on data from the American Medical Association and National Provider Index as well as Doximity's database of U.S. physicians and corresponding geographic data.

According to Krikorian, a big part of the problem is that the U.S. health care system rewards procedural approaches over preventative medicine. In practice, this means doctors end up treating obese patients more often than helping patients avoid gaining weight in the first place.

And unfortunately, some areas of the country are facing a worse shortage than others. The endocrinologist workforce is clustered in the Northeast, as well as around large metropolitan areas. This leaves a relative dearth of practitioners in the South, where obesity and diabetes rates are higher than anywhere else in the country.

The shortage doesn't stop at specialists, either. In March, the Association of American Medical Colleges released a report projecting that by the year 2025, the United States will face a shortage of 90,000 physicians, particularly in already underserved rural and poor areas.

See the graphic below for the U.S. endocrinologist shortage:


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