Primary Care Physicians’ Attitudes about Obesity and Its Treatment


University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, Weight and Eating Disorders Program, 3535 Market Street, Suite 3027, Philadelphia, PA 19104-3309. E-mail:


Objective: This study was designed to assess physicians’ attitudes toward obese patients and the causes and treatment of obesity.

Research Methods and Procedures: A questionnaire assessed attitudes in 2 geographically representative national random samples of 5000 primary care physicians. In one sample (N = 2500), obesity was defined as a BMI of 30 to 40 kg/m2, and in the other (N = 2500), obesity was defined as a BMI > 40.

Results: Six hundred twenty physicians responded. They rated physical inactivity as significantly more important than any other cause of obesity (p < 0.0009). Two other behavioral factors—overeating and a high-fat diet—received the next highest mean ratings. More than 50% of physicians viewed obese patients as awkward, unattractive, ugly, and noncompliant. The treatment of obesity was rated as significantly less effective (p < 0.001) than therapies for 9 of 10 chronic conditions. Most respondents (75%), however, agreed with the consensus recommendations that a 10% reduction in weight is sufficient to improve obesity-related health complications and viewed a 14% weight loss (i.e., 78 ± 5 kg from an initial weight of 91 kg) as an acceptable treatment outcome. More than one-half (54%) would spend more time working on weight management issues if their time was reimbursed appropriately.

Discussion: Primary care physicians view obesity as largely a behavioral problem and share our broader society's negative stereotypes about the personal attributes of obese persons. Practitioners are realistic about treatment outcomes but view obesity treatment as less effective than treatment of most other chronic conditions.