A qualitative study of GPs' views towards obesity: are they fighting or giving up?

Public health. 2015;129(3):218-25

Plain language summary

Obesity is a worldwide problem. General Practitioners (GPs) are usually the first port of call for many obese patients and so they are in a good position to be able to take action. The problem is that many GPs are not taking advantage of this opportunity. The aim of this study was to understand the views of GPs on obesity and what they see as their role in the treatment of this disease. 16 GPs in Portugal were interviewed face-to-face; a specific set of open questions was used to structure the interviews. 3 main themes came out of this study: 1) obesity as a public health concern, 2) obese characteristics vs treatment demands 3) GPs’ sense of defeat vs need to treat. The authors concluded that GPs do understand their role in obesity management and prevention but they hold negative views about obese patients that seem to be affecting their practices. This should be taken into account during training. More research is needed in this area to help GPs in their role to combat the obesity pandemic.


OBJECTIVES Several studies indicate that general practitioners (GPs) are not taking the issue of obesity as seriously as they should. Therefore, the aim of this study was to understand GPs' views about obesity and obese people and how these professionals perceive their role in the treatment of this disease. STUDY DESIGN Qualitative study using semi-structured interviews. METHODS Sixteen semi-structured interviews were conducted with Portuguese GPs. Data were analyzed according to thematic analysis procedures. RESULTS GPs are negative about their own role in obesity treatment. Although they believe it is part of their job to advise obese patients on the health risks of obesity, the majority of doctors think they are not making any difference in getting their patients to make long term lifestyle changes. GPs hold negative attitudes towards these patients blaming them for being unmotivated and non-compliant and are also pessimistic about their ability to lose weight. Doctors are facing a dilemma in their practices: they want to play an active role but, due to a set of negative beliefs and perceived barriers, they are playing a relatively passive role, feeling defeated and unmotivated, which is reflected in a decrease of efforts and a willing to give up on most of the cases. CONCLUSIONS This issue should be taken in to account during physicians' education since doctors should be aware of how their own beliefs and attitudes influence their behaviour and practices, compromising, therefore, the adherence to and the success in obesity treatment. They seem to need more precise guidelines and better tools for screening and management of obesity, more referral options, and improved coordination with other specialities.

Lifestyle medicine

Fundamental Clinical Imbalances : Hormonal
Patient Centred Factors : Mediators/Obesity
Environmental Inputs : Diet ; Psychosocial influences
Personal Lifestyle Factors : Nutrition ; Psychological
Functional Laboratory Testing : Not applicable

Methodological quality

Jadad score : Not applicable
Allocation concealment : Not applicable
Publication Type : Journal Article


Nutrition Evidence keywords : Obesity ; General practitioner ; Weight stigma