GPs can and must do more to tackle obesity crisis

Dr Elizabeth Sturgiss and Dr Mel Deery

General practitioners (GPs) can and should do more to tackle the obesity epidemic in Australia, a new study from The Australian National University (ANU) has found.  

Two in three Australians are overweight or obese but half of patients in obesity programs drop out before achieving any results.

Dr Elizabeth Sturgiss from the ANU Medical School led a pilot study which found GPs were well placed on the health frontline to help patients manage their weight, but they did not have the confidence to do so effectively.

"More and more patients are coming to GPs with obesity problems, and we want to give GPs the tools to assist their patients. The current guidelines for obesity patients are to refer them to a dietician. However, this doesn't work for everyone," said Dr Sturgiss, who is a GP and health researcher.

Her team - which includes GPs, nurses and psychologists - developed a toolkit that guides GPs and their patients through an evidence-based weight management program.

Part of the toolkit is taken from the field of psychology and measures the effectiveness of a relationship between a GP and patient to manage weight problems.

"GPs and patients with warm and respectful relationships, shared goals and good agreement on what to do to achieve those goals got the best results," Dr Sturgiss said.

Dr Mel Deery, whose practice in Canberra was involved in the pilot study, said the research helped the practice to treat weight and obesity problems.

"Through the research project we helped a number of patients lose five to eight kilograms, which is a significant amount, and we're continuing to use these strategies with patients. This work is vital as obesity is a major public health problem that can lead to heart disease, stroke, arthritis and many mental health problems," Dr Deery said.

Dr Sturgiss said the research team would use the pilot study results to conduct a randomised control trial, which could inform public policy on health and guidelines in GP clinics across Australia.  

The research is published in Clinical Obesity.

Watch the video interviews with Dr Sturgiss and Dr Mel Deery on the ANU YouTube channel.