Primary care nurses' attitudes, beliefs and own body size in relation to obesity management

J Adv Nurs. 2007 Dec;60(5):535-43. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2648.2007.04450.x.


Aim: This paper is a report of a study to explore primary care nurses' attitudes, beliefs and perceptions of own body size in relation to giving advice about obesity.

Background: Primary care nurses have a key role in the management of obesity. Their responses to the stigma of obesity and the effects of their own body size in this context have not been investigated.

Methods: A purposive sample of 15 primary care nurses of markedly different body size were interviewed in a qualitative study undertaken in 2006 in the north of England.

Findings: Participants were aware of obesity stigma and this, among other factors, contributed to perceptions of obesity as being a sensitive issue to discuss. Communication tactics were employed in managing the sensitivity, with emphasis placed on maintaining good rapport. Participants took care to avoid stereotypes in presenting their beliefs about obesity, which were complex and in some respects ambivalent. They were conscious of their own body size in interactions with patients. A slim build appeared to amplify sensitivities surrounding obesity and add concerns about appearing to lack empathy or authentic experience. Those with a large body size made a virtue of their perceived greater empathy and experience, but had concerns about being poor role models. Self-disclosure techniques oriented to demonstrating personal understanding and rapport were employed to manage impressions made by body size.

Conclusion: It is important to consider the effects of own body size in educating nurses, and further research should investigate its effects on patient outcomes.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • Body Image
  • Body Mass Index
  • Body Size
  • Female
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Health Promotion*
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Nurse-Patient Relations
  • Obesity / nursing*
  • Patient Education as Topic*
  • Primary Health Care