Getting to Work on a Global Obesity Knowledge Gap

Around the world, we have a big obesity knowledge gap in medical schools. A few years ago, Marissa Mastrocola and colleagues documented this in the International Journal of Obesity. But the good news is that people are working on closing that gap. This week, a group of medical educators published a new set of obesity care competencies. In this case, the competencies are tailored for healthcare education in the U.K.

This may be stepwise and tedious. But it is surely progress toward equipping healthcare professionals around the world for one of the world’s most prevalent chronic diseases.

Picking Up Myths in Medical Education

It turns out that common biases and myths about obesity make their way into the education of healthcare professionals in the absence of a specific effort to teach obesity science. At NYU, Victoria Fang and colleagues studied the beliefs and knowledge about obesity of medical students in their final year of study.

They found that these students were leaving with beliefs that biology and genetics are not so important in the development of obesity. Rather, they subscribed to the popular bias that it’s a simple matter of people making bad choices. Overeating.

A Global Gap

This obesity knowledge gap is not limited to the U.S. Mastrocola et al completed a systematic review of obesity education of medical schools all over the world in 2019. They found it was scarce. But they also found that it could indeed help with outcomes when schools provided it. Confidence in dealing with the subject goes up when a healthcare professional has the necessary knowledge.

Senior author Fatima Cody Stanford tells us that this points to a critical need around the world:

“The woefully inadequate education of physicians and other heathcare providers with regards to treating obesity is unacceptable. How will we begin to care for this patient population if so few are trained to do so? Let’s start now. Tomorrow is too late.”

Building Efforts Around the World

John Feeney is CEO of the College of Contemporary Health (CCH), which has a mission to educate health professionals for proficiency in care of obesity and weight-related health issues. As senior author of the new obesity care competencies, he reflects on their importance:

“The process of establishing obesity competencies in the U.K. is important. So we based it on the outstanding work of OMEC in the U.S. Our whole thrust is to raise the standard of obesity education in medical schools and other institutes of healthcare learning, such as CCH. We want to ensure that patients who live with obesity receive care from practitioners who are competent to deliver high quality care.”

We find encouragement in this progress. Much work remains to raise the standard of care for people living with obesity. This is a good start for taking it global.

Click here for the new UK competencies published in Advances in Therapy. For the Fang study, click here and then here for the Mastrocola study. You can also find further perspective here.

Education, painting by Rik Wouters / WikiArt

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April 27, 2022

One Response to “Getting to Work on a Global Obesity Knowledge Gap”

  1. April 28, 2022 at 6:44 am, Olivia Barata Cavalcanti said:

    Dear Ted,
    Thank you for raising awareness on the issue of competencies in obesity education, which World Obesity finds it is a very important one as well. So much that last year we gathered a group of experts to map all the SCOPE modules against the OMEC competencies. All of World Obesity educational modules are now linked to Obesity Medicine Education Collaborative competencies, allowing the user to identify the courses best suited to enhance specific obesity management skills (if you want to read more about it: ).