AMA Approves Resolution to Improve Obesity Education in Medical Schools

While obesity is an epidemic in the United States, many physicians receive little training on obesity treatment during medical school. To combat this problem, the American Medical Association (AMA) has passed a resolution coauthored by the American Society of Bariatric Physicians (ASBP) to address gaps in obesity education in medical schools.

Under the resolution, the AMA will “encourage medical schools accrediting bodies to study and report back on the current state of obesity education in medical schools.” The AMA also will “identify organizations that currently provide educational resources/toolkits regarding obesity education for physicians in training and, in consultation with relevant specialty organizations and stakeholders, identify gaps in obesity education in medical schools and submit recommendations for addressing those gaps.”

“If obesity is a disease, then we should treat it as one and that starts with education in medical schools,” said lead author of the resolution Ethan Lazarus, MD, who is on the ASBP Board of Trustees and is the ASBP Delegate in the AMA House of Delegates. “The hope is that making these programs available to medical schools will lower a barrier to proper obesity care,” said Dr. Lazarus, who also is President and a physician at Clinical Nutrition Center, in Denver, Colo.

Dr. Lazarus worked to develop the resolution after talking to medical students to assess whether modern obesity training in medical schools is adequate. “By and large, I found that graduating physicians don’t feel like they have been trained with any tools to deal with the obesity epidemic,” Dr. Lazarus said. “Physicians haven’t learned why obesity is a disease and don’t understand that treatment is more complicated than instructing patients to eat less and exercise more. Thus, they commonly do not recommend intensive behavioral therapy, pharmacotherapy, or bariatric surgery to treat obesity, and this really does a disservice to their patients,” he said.

Resolution Creates a Call-to-Action for Obesity Education in Medical Schools
“We wanted to introduce a resolution that goes beyond recognition and truly creates a call-to-action for obesity education in medical schools,” said Carolynn Francavilla, MD, ASBP’s Alternate Delegate in the AMA House of Delegates.

The passing of this resolution “represents pointing the needle a little bit more in the right direction toward treating obesity like other diseases, which we are just not doing an adequate job of right now,” Dr. Lazarus said. “There are a lot of pieces to the equation, but I think that the first thing that has to happen is physician education, and this is a big step in that direction,” Dr. Lazarus concluded.

ASBP Hosts First-Ever Obesity Caucus at AMA Annual Meeting
Dr. Lazarus and Dr. Francavilla also hosted the first-ever obesity caucus at the 2015 AMA annual meeting. The caucus brought together leaders from many organizations (including those listed below) and AMA staff members involved in the AMA’s efforts to improve health outcomes. Participants at the caucus worked on developing collaborative initiatives to further improve obesity education and treatment, prevent obesity, reduce weight bias, and help reverse the obesity pandemic.

  • American Academy of Pediatrics
  • American Academy of Sleep Medicine
  • American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists
  • American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
  • American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery
  • Endocrine Society
  • Society of American Gastrointestinal and Endoscopic Surgeons
  • Society for Cardiac Angiograpy and Interventions

One topic of discussion was the Treat and Reduce Obesity Act of 2013. “There was a lot of discussion regarding support for this act,” Dr. Lazarus said. 

The caucus will reconvene at future AMA annual and interim meetings.

June 22, 2015

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