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First-Ever Obesity Care Competencies Offer Health Professionals Standardized Education to Help Patients

Headshot of Joann Donnellan
Joann Donnellan

Washington, D.C.– Today, more than 20 leading health organizations representing a dozen health professions are releasing the first-ever set of interdisciplinary educational competencies for the prevention and treatment of obesity. More than one-third of adults currently live with obesity in the United States, costing as much as $210 billion a year in health care costs. However, learning how to prevent and manage obesity is not standardized in the training and education of our current and future health care providers.

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The Provider Competencies for the Prevention and Management of Obesity focus on establishing a working knowledge of obesity, minimizing bias and stigma, facilitating an interdisciplinary, team-based approach, and setting a baseline of training that all health professions can refine based on their specific needs. They were developed by the Provider Training and Education (PTE) Workgroup of the Integrated Clinical and Social Systems for the Prevention and Management of Obesity Innovation Collaborative, an ad hoc activity associated with the Roundtable on Obesity Solutions at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. Members of the workgroup will push for the competencies to be incorporated into accreditation standards, licensing exams, board certifications, and continuing education.

“It is remarkable that we came to consensus on these comprehensive obesity care competencies because they encompass virtually all aspects of care,” said Dr. William Dietz, co-chair of the competency PTE workgroup and Director, Sumner M. Redstone Global Center for Prevention and Wellness, Milken Institute School of Public Health, GWU. “Implementing the competencies in the curricula of these health care organizations is an essential next step to improving the ability of all types of providers to deliver effective care for people with obesity.”

For the first time, these obesity care competencies will provide a common language for all health care professionals to use when interacting with their patients with obesity.

The report points out that these core competencies fill a critical education gap across all health care professions engaged in the prevention and treatment of obesity. Today, fewer than 25 percent of physicians feel that they received adequate training to be able to counsel their patients in making lifestyle changes. In part, that’s because fewer than 30 percent of medical schools meet the minimum number of hours of education in nutrition and exercise science recommended by the National Research Council. Experts and patients alike say bias and stigma are major barriers to proper obesity care.

“For the first time, these obesity care competencies will provide a common language for all health care professionals to use when interacting with their patients with obesity,” said Lisa Howley, Senior Director of Strategic Initiatives & Partnerships in Medical Education at the Association of American Medical Colleges and a PTE workgroup member. “They will also offer more specifics in how to expand existing competency based education programs and help develop and refine curricular materials and evaluation tools for teaching and assessing obesity care.”

“Health care professionals are on the front lines of the battle against obesity,” said Dan Glickman, former Secretary of Agriculture and co-chair of BPC’s Prevention Initiative. “That’s why it’s critical that they have the tools to help their patients practice healthy lifestyles. They are uniquely positioned to prompt change among individuals, families and society.”

“The common denominator for these core competencies is that they all should be adopted and adapted to each health care profession,” said Jeanne Blankenship, Vice President of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and a PTE workgroup member. “A social worker or a physical therapist is a lot different from a registered dietitian nutritionist or a nurse, so each profession should tailor the competencies to fit the needs of their students and providers.”

Read the full competencies report

Read BPC’s work in health provider training health professionals

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