To explore entry-level physiotherapy students’ attitudes and beliefs relating to weight bias and stigmatisation in healthcare.
Cross sectional survey of physiotherapy students.
All final year physiotherapy students (n = 215) enrolled in entry-level physiotherapy programmes in the Republic of Ireland were invited to participate. Each received a questionnaire, consisting of 72 questions, within four key sections. Descriptive statistics and frequencies were used to analyse the data.
A response rate of 83% (179/215) was achieved. Whilst physiotherapy students, overall, had a positive attitude towards people with obesity, 29% had a negative attitude towards people with obesity, 24% had a negative attitude towards managing this population and most (74%) believed obesity was caused by behavioural and individual factors. Over one third of students (35%) reported that they would not be confident in managing patients with obesity and more than half (54%) felt treating patients with obesity was not worthwhile.
This study provides preliminary findings to suggest that weight stigma-reduction efforts are warranted for physiotherapy students. Helping students to understand that obesity is a complex, chronic condition with multiple aspects requiring a multi-faceted approach to its management might be the first step towards dispelling these negative attitudes towards patients living with obesity. Inclusion of a formal obesity curriculum should perhaps now be part of the contemporary physiotherapy students’ education.

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