Beliefs about the causes and solutions to obesity: a comparison of GPs and lay people

Patient Educ Couns. 2008 Apr;71(1):72-8. doi: 10.1016/j.pec.2007.11.022. Epub 2008 Jan 16.


Objective: To explore general practitioners (GPs') beliefs about the causes and solutions to obesity, to compare them to those held by a lay sample and to assess the role of beliefs about causes in explaining beliefs about solutions.

Methods: Questionnaires regarding the causes and solutions to obesity were completed by GPs (n=73) and a lay sample (n=311).

Results: GPs generally believe that obesity is caused by psychological and behavioural factors and are ambivalent about the effectiveness of the majority of available solutions. When compared to a lay population, GPs show a greater endorsement of behavioural, structural, social and psychological causes of obesity whereas the lay population prefer a more biological model of causality. The present study also provides some evidence for the origins of such beliefs about solutions and indicates consistency between GPs' beliefs about solutions and causes. For example, GPs endorse a medical solution if they believe obesity is caused by biological factors and endorse policy change as a solution if they believe it is caused by social factors. The lay sample did not show such consistency in their beliefs.

Conclusions: GPs believe that obesity does not belong within the medical domain. They hold a coherent model in terms of beliefs about causes and solutions which may limit their perspective on what constitutes a suitable solution to this ever common problem.

Practice implications: If GPs are to take responsibility for the management of obesity they should be encouraged either to change their beliefs or to consider whether solutions need always address causality.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • England
  • Family Practice*
  • Female
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Obesity / etiology
  • Obesity / prevention & control*
  • Obesity / therapy
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians'*