Are health professionals equipped to treat obesity?

Are health professionals equipped to treat obesity?

05 May 2023

World Obesity Federation

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This informal CPD article ‘Are health professionals equipped to treat obesity?’ was provided by Alexander French, Head of Education and Capacity Building at the World Obesity Federation, a professional society and health advocacy organisation, representing professional members of the scientific, medical and research communities from over 100 countries globally.

Obesity rates are rising. A recent report by the World Obesity Federation estimates that more than half the global population (51%, or over 4 billion people) will be living with either overweight or obesity by 2035 if current trends prevail, and that 1 in 4 (nearly 2 billion) will have obesity.1 This should concern us all: it is proven that obesity can directly lead to increased mortality, as well as contribute to higher risks for various associated conditions, such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, stroke, dyslipidaemia, hypertension, sleep disorders and some cancers.

What is the current obesity guidance for health professionals?

In 2022, the World Health Organization (WHO) published recommendations on how governments around the world can prevent and manage obesity throughout the life course. Among these, the WHO recommended that governments “Ensure that a sufficient number of health care professionals are adequately trained on obesity prevention and management through pre-service and post-service education.”2 In other words, it’s essential that doctors, nurses and other health professionals are trained in how to prevent and treat obesity, both before entering practice and as part of their continuing education.

Yet most training received by health professionals is woefully inadequate in this regard. The majority of medical schools do not include nutrition and obesity management as part of a required curriculum, and education devoted to the diagnosis and treatment of obesity is not readily available for most health professionals.

As such, health professionals are often unprepared to appropriately address patients' care with regard to nutrition and obesity management. This is borne out by academic studies: a systematic review in 2020 found that “there is currently a paucity of obesity education programs for medical students, residents, and fellow physicians in training programs throughout the world.”3 In an earlier study, 48% of research participants (internists, paediatricians and psychiatrists) were found to be unable to adequately counsel patients about common treatment options for obesity.4

Guidance on how to prevent and treat obesity

To make matters worse, stigmatising attitudes towards obesity are common among health professionals. In a study that surveyed 2,400 women with overweight and obesity, doctors were the second most cited source of weight stigma, with 69% of participants reporting stigma from health providers.5 Weight stigma has been shown to cause depression and physiological stress, often resulting in reduced physical activity and increased calorie intake which leads to further weight gain.6 It is therefore extremely concerning that stigmatising attitudes are so common among the very health professionals treating patients with obesity. 

Often, the consequence is that patients avoid seeking care; a study by Amy and colleagues found that negative attitudes from providers contributed to lower rates of gynaecological cancer screening among women with obesity.7 Tellingly, the researchers recommended that providers should receive specific training related to care of women with overweight and obesity.

How CPD can help health professionals treat obesity

So, what can be done? The World Obesity Federation continues to advocate for the inclusion of specific training on obesity prevention and management - and the harmful consequences of weight stigma - into medical curricula and training for other health professionals. Yet changes to curricula can take years to implement, and with obesity rates projected to soar even higher, there is no time to waste. Fortunately, there is a wealth of CPD available to help provide the vital skills and knowledge needed by health professionals treating obesity.

Within the CPD Courses Catalogue, there are a variety of different courses, events and e-learning programs on obesity prevention, treatment and management. When seeking obesity training, it is essential to make sure it is evidence-based, unbiased, based on the latest scientific research, and ideally authored by experts in the field. 

Obesity is a chronic complex disease, and each patient is unique in the care they require. The best obesity training should therefore offer a comprehensive and multidisciplinary approach to prevention, treatment and management, and be relevant to audiences across different geographies and health systems. There is no doubt that the current projections for obesity are extremely troubling. But by making use of the CPD resources available, we can make sure that patients with obesity receive the compassionate, evidence-based care they deserve and need.

We hope this article was helpful. For more information from the World Obesity Federation, please visit their CPD Member Directory page. Alternatively, you can go to the CPD Industry Hubs for more articles, courses and events relevant to your Continuing Professional Development requirements.


[1] World Obesity Atlas 2023.

[2] Political declaration of the third high-level meeting of the General Assembly on the prevention and control of noncommunicable diseases (2022), p. 110.

[3] Mastrocola MR, Roque SS, Benning LV, Stanford FC. Obesity education in medical schools, residencies, and fellowships throughout the world: a systematic review. Int J Obes (Lond). 2020 Feb;44(2):269-279. doi: 10.1038/s41366-019-0453-6. Epub 2019 Sep 24. PMID: 31551484; PMCID: PMC7002222.

[4] Jay M, Gillespie C, Ark T, Richter R, McMacken M, Zabar S, Paik S, Messito MJ, Lee J, Kalet A. Do internists, pediatricians, and psychiatrists feel competent in obesity care?: using a needs assessment to drive curriculum design. J Gen Intern Med. 2008 Jul;23(7):1066-70. doi: 10.1007/s11606-008-0519-y. PMID: 18612746; PMCID: PMC2517928.

[5] Puhl RM, Brownell KD. Confronting and coping with weight stigma: an investigation of overweight and obese adults. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2006 Oct;14(10):1802-15. doi: 10.1038/oby.2006.208. PMID: 17062811.

[6] Puhl R, Suh Y. Health Consequences of Weight Stigma: Implications for Obesity Prevention and Treatment. Curr Obes Rep. 2015 Jun;4(2):182-90. doi: 10.1007/s13679-015-0153-z. PMID: 26627213.

[7] Amy NK, Aalborg A, Lyons P, Keranen L. Barriers to routine gynecological cancer screening for White and African-American obese women. Int J Obes (Lond). 2006 Jan;30(1):147-55. doi: 10.1038/sj.ijo.0803105. PMID: 16231037.

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World Obesity Federation

World Obesity Federation

For more information from World Obesity Federation, please visit their CPD Member Directory page. Alternatively please visit the CPD Industry Hubs for more CPD articles, courses and events relevant to your Continuing Professional Development requirements.

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