Background: The Healthy People 2000 report recommended that physicians more actively address obesity, but little is known about current attitudes and practices of physicians, particularly across specialty areas relevant to obesity as a medical risk factor.
Methods: A mail survey of 1,222 physicians from six specialties (family practice, internal medicine, gynecology, endocrinology, cardiology, and orthopedics) investigated beliefs, attitudes, and practices regarding obesity in relation to medical risk, management, and interest in training and other resources.
Results: Specialty groups shared high concern for the health risks of moderate and morbid obesity, but distinct attitudes and patterns of practice emerged. For example, family practitioners, internists, and endocrinologists reported treating obesity themselves in about 50% of obese patients, which correlated with reported use of more active treatment approaches (r = 0.62, P < 0.0001). Other groups reported intervening with 5 to 29% of patients, but expressed greater interest in making referrals. Physicians reporting "any specialty training related to ... obesity" ranged from 4.5% of family practitioners to 36.4% of endocrinologists.
Conclusions: Physicians express high concern with management of obesity but variable interest in assuming this role themselves. Mild obesity may be particularly undertreated. Research is critically needed to assess effective physician roles in weight management and to support the development of physician guidelines.