Epidemiology and Population Health

Obesity education in medical schools, residencies, and fellowships throughout the world: a systematic review

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Obesity is pandemic throughout the world, and there is concern that physicians are inadequately trained to treat their patients with obesity despite its prevalence. This review explores obesity education in medical students, resident, and fellow physicians throughout the world from 2005 to 2018. Previous reviews on obesity education were conducted before 2011, focused solely on medical students, and only explored obesity education in the United States. We systematically searched MEDLINE, EMBASE, PsycINFO, and ERIC databases for studies which included the search terms “obesity education” AND either “medical students”, “residency”, or “fellowship” that met PICOS (Population, Interventions, Comparators, Outcomes, Study Design) criteria for articles published in English for obesity education and evaluation of outcomes. Our initial search yielded 234 articles, and 27 studies met criteria for our review. We described and analyzed these studies for their study design and graded quality, quantity, and consistency for each measured outcome. We applied an evidence grading system that has been previously applied in the literature in which each outcome measure was graded on a scale from A to D. We evaluated obesity education programs for outcomes regarding implicit and explicit bias, changes in attitude towards obesity, weight change, obesity knowledge, counseling confidence, intent to counsel, and counseling quality. There was a significant degree of heterogeneity in the studies included. While obesity knowledge was most frequently studied, counseling confidence was the only outcome with an overall grade A. There is currently a paucity of obesity education programs for medical students, residents, and fellow physicians in training programs throughout the world despite high disease prevalence. However, these programs often improve outcomes when they are administered. Our review suggests that more obesity education should be administered in undergraduate and graduate medical education to ensure optimal treatment of patients with obesity.

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National Institutes of Health NIDDK P30 DK040561 and L30 DK118710.

Author information

M.R.M. and S.S.R. were involved in literature search, study design, data interpretation, and writing. L.V.B. was involved in data analysis and writing. F.C.S. was involved in the study design, data collection, data analysis, and writing.

Correspondence to Fatima Cody Stanford.

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