Limitations experienced by GPs and nurses relating to health literacy and obesity management in primary health services

Harris, M Faruqi, N Stocks, N Hermiz, O Powell, K El-Haddad, N Spooner, C
Publication type: 
Conference presentation
Stream 2 Disadvantaged populations

Health Services and Policy Research Conference


To identify issues reported by general practitioners (GPs) and practice nurses (PNs) in the assessment and management of patients with obesity and low health literacy in their practice.


A cluster randomised trial with twenty general practices in low socioeconomic areas (10 each in Sydney and Adelaide). Participants (37 GPs and 24 PNs) self-completed a validated questionnaire on their assessment and management of obese patients and attitudes to health literacy.  

Lessons Learned

Neither GPs nor PNs reported usually assessing patients’ level of health literacy, using a range of recommended communication techniques (or assisting patients with low health literacy to access community-based programs.   While most participants reported frequently assessing patient risk factors and providing brief advice, they reported less frequently working with patients to set goals or refer them to other services.  They reported barriers to patient referral such as the availability of affordable and appropriate services.  Factors reported as impacting GP and PN capacity to treat obesity were lack of patient interest in preventive care and their own lack of time. 


GPs and PNs can have significant roles in assessing and providing weight management education and advice. Our findings, however, suggest they fail to tailor their approach to the needs of patients with low health literacy. They tended to conflate their patients’ lack of understanding (due to low health literacy) with lack of motivation.  Combined with infrequent referral, this means that patients with obesity and low health literacy tend to not be advised of effective options that are available.