Purpose: Primary care physicians are an important source of information on weight management. Nevertheless, weight loss counseling by these physicians remains inadequate. This study sought to determine physicians' barriers to providing weight loss counseling in a public hospital, patients' recall of physicians' weight loss recommendations, and the influence of physicians' counseling on patients' understanding, motivation, and behavior regarding weight loss.
Method: In 2001, four focus groups of faculty and residents were held at two primary care clinics affiliated with the Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center-Shreveport to determine the barriers to providing weight loss counseling. Scripted probes were used to uncover consensus norms. In 2001-02, structured exit interviews were conducted with 210 overweight or obese patients recruited from the clinics to determine patients' recall of physicians' weight loss recommendations, and patients' understanding of the relationship between weight and health, and their stages of readiness for weight loss.
Results: Physicians identified major barriers to providing weight loss counseling, including insufficient confidence, knowledge, and skills. Obesity was underdocumented as a distinct clinical diagnosis. Only 5% of the patients recalled being given the combined weight loss strategy of diet and exercise. However, patients who recalled being counseled to lose weight were more likely to understand the risks of obesity, the benefits of weight loss, and were at a higher stage of readiness for weight loss.
Conclusions: Physicians' weight loss counseling had a significant effect on patients' understanding of and motivation for weight loss. However, physicians provided insufficient guidance on weight management strategies, possibly because of inadequate counseling skills and confidence.