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GP obesity role to be stepped up

GPs are to be expected to hand out physical activity questionnaires to all their overweight patients under a Government initiative to step up management of obesity.

Under the new plans, GPs will be asked to refer sedentary patients to a variety of local exercise schemes, as well as transferring questionnaire data to a central database, writes Gareth Iacobucci.

It follows a £2.5m series of local exercise action pilots, which found identification and referral of patients could successfully promote physical activity in up to 85 per cent.

But GPs reacted with scepticism to the scheme, with the clinical director of the National Obesity Forum adamant he would refuse to use the questionnaires in his own practice.

Public health minister Caroline Flint launched the exercise referral initiative this week alongside results from the pilots, which she said demonstrated significant benefits.

In the pilots, conducted at 10 sites across England, 70 per cent of patients who were 'sedentary or lightly active' achieved or exceeded recommended levels of physical activity. A further 15 per cent hit the targets after receiving motivational interviewing.

A report on the pilots concluded the interventions could 'attract and engage a broad range of people, including those who are not meeting the CMO recommendations for physical activity'.

The general practice physical activity questionnaires ask a series of questions about exercise recreationally and in the workplace, and rate patients on a physical activity index.

But Dr David Haslam, clinical director of the National Obesity Forum, said they would 'irritate everyone to death' and 'be of no use whatsoever'.

Dr Haslam, who is a GP in Watton-at-Stone, Hertfordshire, added: 'Questionnaires are intrusive and can ruin a perfectly good consultation. I personally won't be doing it.'

He praised exercise referral schemes, but said he was worried by large variations in results between the 10 pilots.

Dr Diana Lowry, a GP in Epping, Essex, said the questionnaires would be 'a drop in the ocean – it is difficult to change behaviour, people are obese for lots of reasons, some psychological rather than medical'.

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