Aims: This paper presents a review of all empirical studies focusing on nurses' attitudes towards adult overweight or obese patients, with the aim of clarifying the dimensions and patterns of these attitudes and the methods by which they have been studied.
Background: Obesity has become a common condition and a major public health concern, but it is often associated with negative attitudes and discrimination. Nurses play a key role in providing support and care to patients who are obese.
Methods: Electronic searches were carried out on seven databases from inception to December 2004, along with hand-searching of references in relevant studies. The search terms were built around obesity (and related terms), nursing (and its branches) and attitudes (and related terms). Eleven studies met the inclusion criteria. Data were extracted and summarized in tabular form and analysed in relation to the aims of this review during January 2005.
Findings: There is relatively little research about nurses' attitudes towards obese patients, and the studies reviewed mostly have weaknesses of sampling and measurement. However, they do consistently suggest that a proportion of nurses have negative attitudes and beliefs, reflecting wider stereotypes within Western cultures. There is also a hint of a more complex mix of attitudes among nurses, some of which may counter the consequences of negative attitudes, but these have not been adequately investigated. A number of variables that influence attitudes of nurses can be identified, including age, gender, experience and the weight/body mass index of the nurse.
Conclusion: Further research (both qualitative and quantitative) is needed with more rigorous sampling and, where appropriate, more consistency of measurement. A shift in focus towards the sets of attitudes (positive as well as negative) and behaviours that influence health service quality and outcomes for obese persons would be useful.