Beliefs about the causes of obesity in a national sample of 4th year medical students

Patient Educ Couns. 2015 Nov;98(11):1446-9. doi: 10.1016/j.pec.2015.06.017. Epub 2015 Jun 27.


Objective: Physician knowledge of the complex contributors to obesity varies. We do not know whether today's medical students are graduating with deep understanding of the causes of obesity. Our objective was to assess beliefs about causes of obesity in a national sample of 4th year medical students.

Method: We randomly selected 2000 4th year students from a random sample of 50 U.S. medical schools and asked them to rate the importance of several factors as causes of obesity. Of those invited, 1244 (62%) responded. We conducted latent class analysis to identify groups with similar response patterns.

Results: Most students demonstrated knowledge that obesity has multiple contributors. Students fell into 1 of 4 classes: (1) more likely to endorse all contributors (28%), (2) more likely to endorse physiological contributors (27%), (3) more likely to endorse behavioral or social contributors (24%), and (4) unlikely to endorse contributors outside of overeating and physical activity (22%).

Conclusion: Though students were generally aware of multiple causes, there were 4 distinct patterns of beliefs, with implications for patient care.

Practice implications: Targeted interventions may help to improve depth of knowledge about the causes of obesity and lead to more effective care for obese patients.

Keywords: Diet; Learning; Medical students; Obesity; Weight bias; Weight gain.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Obesity / etiology*
  • Students, Medical / psychology*