Changing the narrative around obesity in the UK: a survey of people with obesity and healthcare professionals from the ACTION-IO study

Carly A. Hughes, Amy L. Ahern, Harsha Kasetty, Barbara M. McGowan, Helen M. Parretti, Ann Vincent, Jason C. G. Halford

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Objectives: To investigate the perceptions, attitudes, behaviours and potential barriers to effective obesity care in the UK using data collected from people with obesity (PwO) and healthcare professionals (HCPs) in the ACTION-IO study (NCT03584191).
Design: UK PwO (body mass index of ≥30 kg/m2 based on self-reported height and weight) and HCPs who manage patients with obesity completed an online survey.
Results: In the UK, 1500 PwO and 306 HCPs completed the survey. Among the 47% of PwO who discussed weight with an HCP in the past 5 years, it took a mean of 9 years from the start of their struggles with weight until a discussion occurred. HCPs reported that PwO initiated 35% of weight-related discussions; PwO reported they initiated 47% of discussions. Most PwO (85%) assumed full responsibility for their own weight loss. The presence of obesity-related comorbidities was cited by 76% of HCPs as a top criterion for initiating weight management conversations. The perception of lack of interest (72%) and motivation (61%) in losing weight were reported as top reasons by HCPs for not discussing weight with a patient. Sixty-five percent of PwO liked their HCP bringing up weight during appointments. PwO reported complex and varied emotions following a weight loss conversation with an HCP, including supported (36%), hopeful (31%), motivated (23%), and embarrassed (17%). Follow-up appointments were scheduled for 19% of PwO after a weight discussion despite 62% wanting follow-up.
Conclusions: The current narrative around obesity requires a paradigm shift in the UK to address the delay between PwO struggling with their weight and discussing weight with their HCP. Perceptions of lack of patient interest and motivation in weight management must be challenged along with the blame culture of individual responsibility that is prevalent throughout society. While PwO may welcome weight-related conversations with an HCP, they evoke complex feelings, demonstrating the need for sensitivity and respect in these conversations.
Trial registration: NCT03584191
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere045616
JournalBMJ Open
Issue number6
Early online date30 Jun 2021
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2021


  • epidemiology
  • general medicine (see internal medicine)
  • medical education & training
  • public health

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