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November 28, 2017

National Study on Perceptions of Obesity Suggests More Education Required for Primary Care Clinicians, Employers

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Denver (November 28, 2017)—A recent study strongly suggests that primary care health professionals and employers who provide health benefits and employee wellness programs need more obesity education.

Despite increasing awareness of obesity as a disease, the Awareness, Care and Treatment in Obesity Management (ACTION) study identified barriers preventing people with obesity from getting adequate and appropriate care. The study found that of the 71 percent of people with obesity who say they have spoken with a health care professional about their weight in the past five years, only 55 percent report receiving a diagnosis of obesity. Less than 24 percent were offered follow-up care for the disease.

Results from the study were published in the journal Obesity and were presented during Obesity Week and National Obesity Care Week in Washington, D.C.

Study co-author and steering committee member, Angela Golden, DNP, FNP-C, FAANP, of NP from Home in Munds Park, Ariz., said there were two significant takeaway messages from the study.

“First, 65 percent of the health care professionals surveyed said they thought their patients would be embarrassed to be asked about obesity. In reality, only 15 percent of patients said they would be uncomfortable if their provider initiated a conversation about their weight,” she said.

While the study supports the notion that patients want to talk to their health care providers about treatments to help them lose weight, “this demonstrates a significant gap in perceptions between patients and primary care providers that must be improved,” Golden said.

Golden is a member of the Obesity Medicine Association, a national health care organization made up of medical professionals who use a comprehensive, scientific, and individualized approach to treat obesity.

“The study also reinforced the concept that obesity medicine clinicians need to do a better job of getting information about medical obesity treatments into the hands of primary care providers to help them better treat their patients, as well as employers to help them better support their employees with obesity,” she said.

Golden said the results of the study provide a unique opportunity to improve outreach and obesity education to primary care providers and employers.

“In my experience, health care providers are very receptive to learning more about new treatments that will benefit their patients,” she said. But the length of an average appointment limits the amount of time for both clinicians and patients to talk about complex health problems. The study provides an opportunity for obesity medicine clinicians to connect, or reconnect, with their primary care colleagues.

Golden said the study also alerts clinicians to the need to spend more time educating employers about obesity. According to the study, 77 percent of employers surveyed offer health and wellness information to employees. But there is a growing realization that these wellness programs may be harmful, not helpful, for people with obesity.

The study found that only 17 percent of people with obesity thought employee wellness programs were helpful in supporting weight loss, while 72 percent of employers perceived them as beneficial. Compounding matters, only 13 percent of patients with obesity said their employers cover obesity medicine treatment.

“Clearly, we need to make more inroads with employers and stress how important obesity medicine treatment is and why it should be covered,” Golden said.

Her own experience supports this ongoing effort—she was recently invited by a large employer in her area to present findings about obesity medicine and current treatments. As a result of this meeting, the employer re-evaluated their insurance benefits package and adjusted it to include coverage of medical obesity treatments.