Context: National physician practices related to the clinical recognition and management of obesity are unknown.
Objectives: To estimate national patterns of office-based, obesity-related practices and to determine the independent predictors of these practices.
Design: Serial cross-sectional surveys of physician office visits.
Setting: Ambulatory medical care in the United States.
Patients: We analyzed 55,858 adult physician office visits sampled in the 1995-1996 National Ambulatory Medical Care Surveys. Data from the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys, 1988-1994 were used to assess and, then, adjust for the underreporting of obesity.
Main outcome measures: Reporting of obesity at office visits and physician counseling for weight loss, exercise, and diet among patients identified as obese.
Results: Physicians reported obesity in only 8.6% of 1995-1996 National Ambulatory Medical Care Surveys visits. The 22.7% prevalence rate of the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys, 1988-1994 suggests that physicians reported obesity in only 38% of their obese patients. Among visits by patients identified as obese, physicians frequently provided counseling for weight loss (35.5%), exercise (32.8%), and diet (41.5%). Adjusted for population prevalence; however, each service was provided to no more than one quarter of all obese patients. While patients with obesity-related comorbidities were treated more aggressively, in these patients, weight loss counseling occurred at only 52% of the visits.
Conclusions: Specific interventions to address obesity are infrequent in visits to US physicians. Obesity is underreported and interventions are only moderately likely among patients identified as obese, even for those with serious obesity-related comorbidities.