Physician Beliefs about Obesity Affect Advice and Care

Physician beliefs about the causes of obesity shape the advice they give their patients. A study in the February Preventive Medicine journal found that the advice primary care physicians (PCPs) offered their patients depended upon their own beliefs about the relative importance of portions, restaurant foods, and sugar-sweetened beverages. The authors found an opportunity for better physician education about nutrition and obesity that would translate into better patient counseling.

Sara N. Bleich and colleagues from the Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine analyzed a nationwide cross-sectional Internet-based survey of 500 primary care physicians. Researchers assessed physician beliefs in responses to the survey collected between February and March of 2011 about the causes of obesity. “Eighty-six percent of primary care physicians indicated that overconsumption of food is a very important cause of obesity, followed by 62% of physicians reporting that restaurant or fast food eating is a very important cause and 60% attributing consuming sugar sweetened beverages as a very important cause,” noted Bleich in a press release from Johns Hopkins. Few physicians reported genetics, family history, or metabolic defect as an important cause of obesity.

This study is follow-up research to a paper published by Bleich and colleagues in the January 2011 Patient Education and Counseling journal titled “Physician Practice Patterns of Obesity Diagnosis and Weight-Related Counseling.” This paper also examined survey data and found that the majority of patients with obesity do not receive an obesity diagnosis or weight-related counseling. Specifically, the researchers found that a third of adults with obesity received an obesity diagnosis (28.9%) and approximately a fifth received counseling for weight reduction (17.6%), diet (25.2%), or exercise (20.5%). Interestingly, women, young adults ages 18 to 29, and individuals with severe obesity were significantly more likely to receive an obesity diagnosis.

Related to the Preventive Medicine study, Bleich was asked how to get better odds of PCPs providing nutritional counseling. “Improved primary care physician education related to the causes of obesity may be a feasible strategy for increasing the frequency of nutritional counseling – particularly concrete dietary tips that primary care physicians can easily share with their patients.”

Click here to read more on this study in TIME, or here to read the study in Preventive Medicine.

Physicians with Patient, image © Seattle Municipal Archives / Wikimedia Commons