Obesity educational interventions in U.S. medical schools: a systematic review and identified gaps

Teach Learn Med. 2012;24(3):267-72. doi: 10.1080/10401334.2012.692286.


Background: Obesity is the second leading cause of preventable death in the United States. However, physicians feel poorly trained to address the obesity epidemic. This article examines effective training methods for overweight and obesity intervention in undergraduate medical education. Using indexing terms related to overweight, obesity, and medical student education, we conducted a literature searched PubMed PsycINFO, Cochrane, and ERIC for relevant articles in English. References from articles identified were also reviewed to located additional articles.

Summary: We included all studies that incorporated process or outcome evaluations of obesity educational interventions for U.S. medical students. Of an initial 168 citations, 40 abstracts were retrieved; 11 studies were found to be pertinent to medical student obesity education, but only 5 included intervention and evaluation elements. Quality criteria for inclusion consisted of explicit evaluation of the educational methods used. Data extraction identified participants (e.g., year of medical students), interventions, evaluations, and results. These 5 studies successfully used a variety of teaching methods including hands on training, didactic lectures, role-playing, and standardized patient interaction to increase medical students' knowledge, attitudes, and skills regarding overweight and obesity intervention. Two studies addressed medical student bias toward overweight and obese patients. No studies addressed health disparities in the epidemiology and bias of obesity.

Conclusions: Despite the commonly cited "obesity epidemic," there are very few published studies that report the effectiveness of medical school obesity educational programs. Gaps still exist within undergraduate medical education including specific training that addresses obesity and long-term studies showing that such training is retained.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Curriculum
  • Education, Medical, Undergraduate / methods
  • Educational Status
  • Health Education / methods*
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Health Promotion / methods*
  • Health Status Disparities*
  • Humans
  • Obesity / epidemiology
  • Obesity / prevention & control*
  • Patient Education as Topic
  • Schools, Medical*
  • Social Marketing*
  • United States / epidemiology