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Better obesity training for GPs

GPs call for better training to fight European obesity epidemic

Many GPs say they lack the confidence to offer the best support to patients

European General Practitioners (GPs) are calling for more and better training on obesity in order to improve treatment and care for patients. A survey of more than 700 GPs from seven European countries has shown that almost a third are not confident enough about the complexities of obesity to offer the best support to patients, and less than half think that GPs generally provide effective advice on losing weight and overcoming obesity.

According to the survey, conducted for the European Association for the Study of Obesity (EASO), 83% of GPs feel they should have more training on its causes, consequences and treatment. Nearly half of them (43%) reported having received less than four hours of such tuition during their entire medical training, which typically takes around ten years.  This is despite the fact that almost 95% of the GPs view obesity to be a serious danger to health in their country and 38% recognise it to be very dangerous.

“Despite the growing epidemic and the burden it places on healthcare systems, it is clear that GP’s are given very little training on obesity,” said EASO President, Professor Hermann Toplak. “This is a major barrier to obesity treatment. More effort needs to be made to improve healthcare professionals’ understanding of obesity and comprehensive treatment approaches that can be delivered as part of patient care,” he said.

The figures support the view of the World Health Organization that obesity is one of the greatest public health challenges of the 21st century as its prevalence has tripled in many countries in Europe since the 1980s. Overall, GPs ranked obesity fifth in a list of serious dangers to health. This is despite three of the top four – cancer, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes – commonly result from obesity.

The GPs agree that more effective treatment of obesity would significantly reduce the burden on the healthcare systems from the many other diseases and conditions on which it impacts. Furthermore, there is wide agreement among GPs (83% of those interviewed) that obesity is a disease and should be more widely recognised and treated as such. Almost three quarters of them (74%) agreed that it would result in better patient care. Only three countries in Europe (the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain) currently recognise obesity a disease.

Among other key findings are:

  • Nearly six out of ten of the GPs’ patients are overweight or have obesity (58% in total: 35% overweight and 23% with obesity). The highest reported number of patients with obesity was in Germany (29%). The lowest in the Netherlands (15%).
  • More than a quarter (28%) of GPs rarely or only occasionally initiate discussions on weight with their patients with obesity. In the UK it is 34%.
  • Lack of exercise is seen by GPs as the most common cause of obesity (72%)
  • Bariatric surgery is an effective treatment in helping patients with obesity to lose weight (according to 91% of GPs) and is considered a positive way of treating other diseases and conditions caused by obesity.

The survey was published to coincide with a European Policy Conference on Obesity being organised in Brussels in the run up to European Obesity Day on Saturday (May 19).

Further details about the survey are available on the European Obesity Day website here

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