Medical schools need to improve obesity training, physicians say

A condition that affects 42 percent of adults in the U.S. is one that medical schools only spend around 10 hours training future physicians on, a new study found. Obesity was formally declared an epidemic by the World Health Organization more than 25 years ago — in 1997.

"A national effort is needed to control the epidemic," a 1999 press statement from former CDC Director Jeffrey Koplan, MD, urged. "Health care providers must counsel their obese patients," he added.

Despite leading health organizations like the WHO and CDC underscoring the severity of obesity for decades, medical school curriculum has yet to do the same. 

Even still, of the medical schools surveyed for this study, 50 percent said expanding obesity education was either a low priority or not a priority. 

"U.S. medical schools are not adequately preparing their students to manage patients with obesity," researchers wrote of their findings. "Despite the obesity epidemic and high cost burden, medical schools are not prioritizing obesity in their curricula."

On top of that, many issues also lie in the way patients who have obesity are stigmatized across the medical profession. 

Patty Nece told NPR affiliate WBUR that as a person experiencing obesity, oftentimes clinicians attribute her pain to her weight rather than examining further causes. Upon becoming emotional in a doctor's office about hip pain, she was once told "See, you're even crying because of your weight," by the physician, she recounted.

However, another medical professional later found that her pain was being caused by a severe curve in her spine, not her weight, according to WBUR.

Medical schools surveyed did shed light on the faults in curriculum, citing that with so much to cover about the profession, there often wasn't "room" to add more about obesity in with it.

Thirty percent of medical schools also admitted their programs do not train future clinicians on behavioral obesity interventions, appropriate communication with patients about obesity or pharmacotherapy.

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