The role of the General Practitioner in weight management in primary care--a cross sectional study in General Practice

BMC Fam Pract. 2008 Dec 15;9:66. doi: 10.1186/1471-2296-9-66.


Background: Obesity has become a global pandemic, considered the sixth leading cause of mortality by the WHO. As gatekeepers to the health system, General Practitioners are placed in an ideal position to manage obesity. Yet, very few consultations address weight management. This study aims to explore reasons why patients attending General Practice appointments are not engaging with their General Practitioner (GP) for weight management and their perception of the role of the GP in managing their weight.

Methods: In February 2006, 367 participants aged between 17 and 64 were recruited from three General Practices in Melbourne to complete a waiting room self - administered questionnaire. Questions included basic demographics, the role of the GP in weight management, the likelihood of bringing up weight management with their GP and reasons why they would not, and their nominated ideal person to consult for weight management. Physical measurements to determine weight status were then completed. The statistical methods included means and standard deviations to summarise continuous variables such as weight and height. Sub groups of weight and questionnaire answers were analysed using the chi2 test of significant differences taking p as < 0.05.

Results: The population sample had similar obesity co-morbidity rates to the National Heart Foundation data. 74% of patients were not likely to bring up weight management when they visit their GP. Negative reasons were time limitation on both the patient's and doctor's part and the doctor lacking experience. The GP was the least likely person to tell a patient to lose weight after partner, family and friends. Of the 14% that had been told by their GP to lose weight, 90% had cardiovascular obesity related co-morbidities. GPs (15%) were 4th in the list of ideal persons to manage weight after personal trainer

Conclusion: Patients do not have confidence in their GPs for weight management, preferring other health professionals who may lack evidence based training. Concurrently, GPs target only those with obesity related co-morbidities. Further studies evaluating GPs' opinions about weight management, effective strategies that can be implemented in primary care and the co-ordination of the team approach need to be done.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Chi-Square Distribution
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Obesity / epidemiology
  • Obesity / prevention & control*
  • Physician's Role*
  • Physician-Patient Relations
  • Physicians, Family*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Victoria / epidemiology