An Exploration of Barriers Facing Physicians in Diagnosing and Treating Obesity

Ashley Hite*, David Victorson, Rita Elue, Beth A. Plunkett

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Purpose: To determine whether primary care physicians can accurately assess body mass index (BMI) by visual inspection and to assess barriers related to the diagnosis and management of obesity. Design: Prospective Survey Study. Setting: Hospitals and Clinics. Subjects: Primary care providers in the fields of Internal Medicine, Family Medicine and Obstetrics/Gynecology. Measures: Measures investigated included providers visual assessment of BMI, BMI knowledge, diagnosis and management of obese patients, and perceived barriers to treatment. Analysis: Top and bottom quartiles and total scores were determined for responses regarding the reported management of obesity, reported comfort with care, and reported barriers to care and used as the cut point. Statistical analyses were utilized to examine relations and compare groups. Results: 206 (74%) of the 280 eligible providers completed the survey. The accuracy of visual assessment of BMI was 52%. Physicians were more likely to underestimate BMI than overestimate (36% ± 4% vs 12% ± 6%, respectively, P <.001). Although 91% of providers report routinely calculating BMI, only 61% routinely discuss BMI. Providers feel comfortable providing exercise (72%) and dietary counseling (61%). However, fewer are comfortable prescribing medical (16.4%) and surgical options (36%). Conclusion: Visual assessment of BMI is not reliable. Primary care physicians in our study population do not consistently discuss obesity with their patients and many report insufficient knowledge with regard to treatment options. Further studies are needed to determine whether these results are valid for other physicians in various practice settings and to mid-level providers. In addition, research is needed that investigate how collaboration with providers outside the medical field could reduce the burden on physicians in treating patients with overweight or obesity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)217-224
Number of pages8
JournalAmerican Journal of Health Promotion
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2019


  • BMI
  • barriers
  • obesity
  • obesity treatment
  • physician attitudes
  • primary care

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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