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A Silent Response to the Obesity Epidemic

Decline in US Physician Weight Counseling

Kraschnewski, Jennifer L., MD, MPH*; Sciamanna, Christopher N., MD, MPH*; Stuckey, Heather L., DEd*; Chuang, Cynthia H., MD, MSc*; Lehman, Erik B., MS*; Hwang, Kevin O., MD, MPH; Sherwood, Lisa L., MD*; Nembhard, Harriet B., PhD, MSE

doi: 10.1097/MLR.0b013e3182726c33
Original Articles

Background: Guidelines recommend that physicians screen all adults for obesity and offer an intensive counseling and behavioral interventions for weight loss for obese adults. Current trends of weight-related counseling are unknown in the setting of the US obesity epidemic.

Objectives: To describe primary care physician (PCP) weight-related counseling, comparing counseling rates in 1995–1996 and 2007–2008.

Research Design: Data analysis of outpatient PCP visits in 1995–1996 and 2007–2008, as reported in the National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey.

Subjects: A total of 32,519 adult primary care visits with PCPs.

Measures: Rates of counseling for weight, diet, exercise, and a composite variable, weight-related counseling (defined as counseling for weight, diet, or exercise) between survey years. Adjusted analyses controlled for patient and visit characteristics.

Results: Weight counseling declined from 7.8% of visits in 1995–1996 to 6.2% of visits in 2007–2008 [adjusted odds ratios, 0.64; 95% confidence intervals, 0.53, 0.79]. Rates of receipt of diet, exercise, and weight-related counseling similarly declined. Greater declines in odds of weight-counseling receipt were observed among those with hypertension (47%), diabetes (59%), and obesity (41%), patients who stand the most to gain from losing weight.

Conclusions: Rates of weight counseling in primary care have significantly declined despite increased rates of overweight and obesity in the United States. Further, these declines are even more marked in patients with obesity and weight-related comorbidities, despite expectations to provide such care by both patients and policymakers. These findings have implications for determining deliverable, novel ways to engage PCPs in addressing the obesity epidemic.

*Penn State Hershey Medical Center and College of Medicine, Hershey, PA

University of Texas Medical School at Houston, Houston, TX

Department of Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering, College of Engineering, PA

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

Reprints: Jennifer L. Kraschnewski, MD, MPH, Penn State Hershey Medical Center and College of Medicine, 500 University Drive, HO34, Hershey, PA 17033. E-mail:

© 2013 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.