Management of obesity in primary care: nurses’ practices, beliefs and attitudes


Ian Brown: e-mail:


Aim.  This paper is a report of a study to investigate patterns of clinical practice, beliefs and attitudes of primary care nurses with respect to obesity management.

Background.  Nurses in primary care potentially play a key role in managing obesity, which has become a priority issue. There have been few studies of either the extent of clinical practice of nurses, or their attitudes and beliefs in this setting.

Methods.  A correlational survey design was employed. Structured questionnaires were posted to 564 nurses and health visitors in primary care organizations in England. The response rate was 72·3%. The survey was conducted in April and May 2006.

Findings.  Very few respondents reported training in obesity management, and most did not believe that organizational support was in place. Only practice nurses reported substantial clinical activity in obesity management, accounting for almost 5% of their contracted hours. This activity, comprised of assessment, lifestyle change support and referral, occurred in one-to-one consultations. Other nurses and health visitors reported much less activity, although they believed obesity to be an important health issue and its management an appropriate part of their role. Whilst outright negative stereotypes were rare, there were nevertheless a range of potentially negative beliefs and attitudes relating to obesity and obese patients. These views were related to the respondent's own body mass index but not to gender, age, experience and occupation.

Conclusion.  Training and organizational support for obesity management are required by primary care nurses. Training should also address beliefs and attitudes about obesity and obese persons.