Exploring patient beliefs and perceptions regarding obesity as a disease, obesity causation and treatment

Type Article

Journal Article


A. Grannell; F. Fallon; D. Pournaras; C. W. le Roux

Year of publication



Ir J Med Sci








INTRODUCTION: In patients with obesity (PwO) and heath care providers (HcPs), there appears to exist a discrepancy between recognition of obesity as a disease and the underlying biology of the disease. This is evident when considering PwO and HcPs appear to agree obesity is a disease but position lifestyle related factors as the main barriers to treatment with eat less and move more" considered the best treatment approach. This does not align with current evidence regarding obesity treatments and the underlying pathophysiology. An understanding of PwO beliefs and perceptions may facilitate improved communication strategies with regard to the underlying pathophysiology of obesity as a disease. This has the potential to lead to improvements in both prevention and treatment strategies. Therefore, we evaluated PwO beliefs and perceptions of obesity as a disease, obesity causation and obesity treatment recorded during clinical evaluation. METHODS: As part of usual clinical practice we record 9 items to investigate beliefs and perceptions of obesity in PwO. We used a clinical audit to determine how frequently this information was formally recorded and to explore the association between beliefs and perceptions. RESULTS: The information was formally recorded in the patients' chart in 52 out of 108 patients (49%) who were part of an intensive lifestyle and medication program between 2018 and 2020. We found PwO tend to agree that obesity is a disease and that weight loss maintenance is dependent on willpower. A strong tendency towards agreement was present for the statement exercise is essential for weight loss. For the statement exercise is as effective as diet alone for weight loss, a tendency towards disagreement was present. Seventy-nine percent of PwO claimed to know the recommended guidelines for exercise with average response aligning with the America College of Sports Medicine recommendations. In exploring the relationship between responses, a number of significant associations were present which may facilitate future approaches to changing the narrative around obesity as a disease and isolating specific aspects of the message that need to be focused upon for the PwO. CONCLUSION: PwO appear to have conflicting beliefs regarding obesity as a disease and the underlying biology. This has the potential to hinder attempts to treat the disease via lifestyle intervention and may also reduce likelihood to consider alternative treatment options. These beliefs and perceptions need to be explored further, along with those of HcPs, policy makers and the general public. Collectively this may facilitate changing the narrative around obesity as a disease and positively impact both the prevention and treatment of this disease."