The “Heavy Burden” of Caring for Obese Patients: Part 1


Article Categories: Diseases & Environment

It’s no secret that the number of overweight and obese Americans has reached epidemic proportions. Bariatric medicine is a growing branch of healthcare, dealing with the special needs of patients who are obese. When we look at the statistics, there are special concerns for the CNAs who provide daily hands-on care for these patients:



• Between 1976-2000, the percentage of obese patients went from 14.4% to 31%
• Over 2/3 of adults are overweight, with a BMI greater than 25
• 38% of adults over 60 are obese, with a BMI greater than 30
• 25% of nursing home patients now have a BMI greater than 35

Knowing the Body Mass Index (BMI) of your patients is the first step in determining how to give them excellent care while keeping yourself safe. BMI is the amount of body fat in adults. It is calculated with a formula, using the patient’s height and weight. There are many BMI calculators online, including the National Institute of Health website. (Check your own BMI, too. It can make a difference in your health.)

Why does BMI matter so much? Because the heavier people are, the greater their health risks. Patients who are obese enter long-term care facilities at younger ages and stay longer, sometimes for the rest of their lives. Anyone who is overweight or obese is in danger of dying from these preventable conditions:

• Heart disease
• Stroke
• Type 2 diabetes
• Cancer: Breast, colon and rectum, uterine, kidney, esophageal, pancreatic, thyroid

It’s not just the CNA who has to deal with the care of bariatric patients. Nursing homes and long-term care facilities are often unable to get funding for the equipment that’s required. Here are some things that are needed, which Medicaid doesn’t cover:

• Larger beds. Standard hospital beds support up to 350 pounds.
• Wider wheelchairs and walkers
• Oversized blood pressure cuffs
• Special lifts for patients
• Longer needles for injections
• More staff for turning, ambulation, and safety

Understanding the background and administrative side of admitting overweight or obese patients is important. Accepting these patients is often part of a facility’s mission and all team members must cooperate. Now that you know this, you will be better prepared to provide the same high standard of care that all patients receive. In Part 2, we will talk about some areas of care that are different for obese, or bariatric, patients. In Part 3, we’ll share tips from other CNAs that can make your job easier…and safer.

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