• child obesity;
  • curriculum;
  • doctor–patient communication;
  • medical education

Aim:  It is important that medical schools take some account of community expectations for health care when planning curricula. This is particularly important for emerging public health problems such as childhood obesity. The aim of this study was to explore parent attitudes to the role of the doctor in childhood obesity and implications for medical student learning.

Methods:  The views of eight mothers and one father were explored through interview. Transcripts were analysed using an iterative process of theme identification and testing against transcript data. A range of recruitment strategies were used in an attempt to increase participant numbers.

Results:  Participants believed doctors should support parent decisions about children's diet and life-style and be prepared to ‘step-in’ with a more active role when, in the parent's view, this was needed. Participants wanted doctors to provide advice on healthy nutrition, be proficient in child physical assessment and be able to communicate sensitively with both children and parents.

Conclusion:  Although the parents who agreed to be interviewed expressed views demonstrating their commitment to preventing and reducing childhood obesity, many other parents declined the invitation to contribute. It may be that parent concern within the broader community that childhood obesity is a real and significant health risk does not reflect the level of concern of the medical profession. The most likely implications for the teaching of medical students are a need for more comprehensive teaching around healthy diet and activity for all children, improved recognition of overweight and obesity and ongoing communication skills development.