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GPs failing to help patients lose weight

GPs failing to help patients lose weight - Featured Image

A study has found Australian general practitioners are confusing lack of motivation with low health literacy resulting in a failure to help those who are overweight and obese lose weight.

It’s believed one in five Australians have low health literacy, meaning they don’t have a good understanding of their own health, the measures they can take to improve it and how the healthcare system can help them.

The UNSW study examined how GPs and practice nurses managed overweight and obese patients in 20 practices in disadvantaged areas of Sydney and Adelaide.

It found few of the 61 health staff surveyed assessed a patient’s health literacy, which Professor Mark Harris, Executive Director of UNSW’s Centre for Primary Health Care and Equity, said was important as health professionals often confuse low health literacy with poor motivation.

“Many medical professionals wrongly assume the growing ranks of overweight and obese Australians are not sufficiently motivated to lose weight. Instead, existing research suggests low health literacy may be the culprit,” Professor Harris said.

There are National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) obesity management guidelines to assess health literacy in patients.

Professor Harris and his team are assessing how the NHMRC guidelines can best be incorporated into GP practices.

“In this age when we are drowning in information about lifestyle and weight management, it is important that people with low health literacy are not left behind,” Professor Harris said.

“Tailoring our approach to the needs of those with low health literacy is part of the solution to reversing this trend.”

The results of the study are being presented at the Primary Health Care Research Conference in Adelaide.