Only one in seven UK doctors' surgeries provide well-developed support programmes for obese patients, according to a survey of primary care nurses published in the latest Journal of Advanced Nursing.
Sheffield-based researchers surveyed just under 400 nurses in the north of England in mid 2006, including district nurses, practice nurses and health visitors.
Their aim was to ask the nurses about their clinical practice, views and support for patients with obesity.
The researchers discovered that 89 per cent of nurses recognise the need for more effective primary care services to tackle obesity and see obesity advice and support as part of their role.
However, one in five nurses also admitted that they felt awkward or embarrassed about talking to patients about obesity and only a fifth felt they were effective when it came to helping patients to lose weight.
Half said that they found providing care and support for obese patients particularly rewarding, but some also expressed negative attitudes and beliefs.
It's estimated that one in five adults in the survey area -- which covered four primary care trusts in the north of England - are obese, reflecting national UK trends.
Many of the nurses in the current survey also had weight problems - 14 per cent were obese and 29 per cent were overweight.
"Primary care nurses have an important role when it comes to helping patients to tackle obesity, which can lead to diseases like coronary heart disease and diabetes" says lead researcher Dr Ian Brown from Sheffield Hallam University.
"But they clearly need further training and organisational support to provide the help that obese people need to lose weight, in line with new UK health guidelines.
"Any training programmes should also address nurses' beliefs and attitudes. While outright negatives stereotypes were rare, a number of nurses displayed potentially negative beliefs and attitudes relating to obesity and obese people. However, they were much less likely to do this if they were obese themselves"
Key findings of the study included:
Attitudes to obese patients
"Obesity is on the rise and it concerns us that front-line staff like primary care nurses are not receiving the training and support they need to help patients tackle the problem" concludes Dr Brown.
"The Government's advisory body, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, issued guidelines in December 2006 on how obesity should be managed by UK healthcare professionals, including local family doctors' surgeries.
"As a result, a number of new policy and service developments are underway, led by the Department of Health.
"However, our findings indicate that considerable development and training will be needed if effective and sensitive programmes are to be put in place."
Reference: "Management of obesity in primary care: nurses' practices, beliefs and attitudes." Brown et al. Journal of Advanced Nursing. 59.4, pages 329-341.
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