Background

Inadequate provider training and education on obesity is a significant factor limiting our haphazard response to the obesity epidemic. Studies have identified gaps in the curricula of medical schools and residency programs, but less is known about how obesity is addressed in the formative training of non-physician providers. We assessed how obesity is currently incorporated into the curricula of various professions that care for people with obesity.

Methods

Data were obtained through online surveys of accredited U.S. nursing, physician assistant, dietitian, pharmacy, physical therapy, occupational therapy, dentistry, exercise physiology, social work, and public health training programs in May 2019. Respondents included deans, directors, and faculty with detailed knowledge of their program’s curriculum.

Results

Of the 343 responses to the survey, 87% of programs reported that their curriculum included education and/or training on obesity. Integration of obesity-related curricular content was highest for exercise physiology (100%) and lowest for social work (22%). Programs were most likely to address competencies related to core obesity knowledge (e.g. epidemiology of obesity) and least likely to address skills for interprofessional collaboration in obesity care. Considerable variation existed in the number of instructional hours. Classroom lectures, case-based learning, and clinical experiences were the most commonly reported instructional methods.

Conclusions

Demand for providers and organizations that can effectively leverage clinical and community resources to improve patient-reported outcomes (e.g. weight-related QoL) and mitigate obesity-associated medical complications will increase as value-based care increases. The integration of competency-based training and education on obesity into existing curricula, continuing education, and/or licensing exams is essential to improve care for this highly prevalent disease.