Are physicians equipped to address the obesity epidemic? Knowledge and attitudes of internal medicine residents

Prev Med. 2003 Jun;36(6):669-75. doi: 10.1016/s0091-7435(03)00055-0.


Background: To analyze whether internists are suited for their role in treating the growing numbers of obese patients, we surveyed residents about their knowledge and attitudes regarding obesity. Previous assessments have not analyzed familiarity with obesity measurement tools or the correlation between knowledge and attitudes.

Methods: We administered a survey to 87 internal medicine residents in two urban, university-based residency programs.

Results: Almost all respondents understood the medical consequences of obesity, but 60% did not know the minimum BMI for diagnosing obesity, 69% did not recognize waist circumference as a reasonable measure of obesity, and 39% incorrectly reported their own BMI. Although nearly all respondents agreed that treating obesity was important, only 30% reported treatment success. Forty-four percent felt qualified to treat obese patients, and 31% reported treatment to be futile. Knowledge and attitudes were not correlated. Rasch analysis of knowledge and attitude subscales showed satisfactory model fit and item reliability of at least 0.96.

Conclusions: Despite solid knowledge of the comorbid conditions associated with obesity, residents have a poor grasp of the tools necessary to identify obesity. They also have negative opinions about their skills for treating obese patients. Residency training not only must improve knowledge of obesity measurement tools but also must address physicians' negative attitudes toward obesity treatment.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attitude of Health Personnel*
  • Body Mass Index
  • Body Weight
  • Clinical Competence*
  • Female
  • Health Care Surveys
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Hospitals, University
  • Humans
  • Internal Medicine / education*
  • Internal Medicine / standards
  • Internship and Residency / standards*
  • Louisiana / epidemiology
  • Male
  • Obesity / complications
  • Obesity / diagnosis*
  • Obesity / therapy
  • Risk Factors