Background

Obesity has known psychosocial and medical underpinnings, and as such understanding patient motivations can be important for clarifying expectations, designing weight loss programs, and providing support services. While motivation has been studied for bariatric surgery patients, this area has not been well-explored for patients pursuing medical weight loss.This study employs text analytics to uncover trends in patients’ personal statements elicited as standard-of-care. By aggregating patients’ own words on a population level and utilizing a computational approach, this study tests hypotheses that patient motivations differ by gender, BMI and referral source.

Methods

149 patient statements and demographics were aggregated from an IRB-approved database and analyzed using R. The text was preprocessed and descriptive techniques applied to evaluate statement lengths and complexity. Specialized text methods were then applied to explore word choices and emotional content.

Results

Weight loss, life, health, and medical conditions were the most frequently used words and themes, potentially reflecting the most common patient referral source (non-PCP clinicians, 104/149). Aesthetics do not appear to be a primary motivator with the word “look” having only 3 occurrences and “appearance” absent altogether. “Pain” was the among the most frequently used word for BMI≥40 patients, but was absent from lower-BMI patient statements. The most conspicuous difference in statements by gender was the disproportionate inclusion of the word “fat” by males.

Conclusions

Motivational patterns appear to be most closely tied to initial BMI, which may reflect medical comorbidities and quality-of-life issues correlated with body size. The common use of medical condition-specific language across the population may suggest health as a primary motivating factor, but may also reflect the patient referral base. Further investigation should explore if motivational factors can be correlated with weight loss outcomes over time.