It has been claimed by researchers that less than two-thirds of doctors in England's GP surgeries are unsure how to approach the subject of physical activity with their patients as they are not confident about how to advise them in this area. Outlined in July 2011 by the Chief Medical Office, national guidelines advise that adults aged between 19 and 64 participate in 75 minutes of intense activity or 150 minutes of moderate physical activity a week. So what is the taboo that some doctors possess on this?

One hour of activity is required to counteract the adverse impacts of sitting at a desk. But in 2015-16 over a quarter of adults in England were categorised as “inactive”, meaning they were doing less than 30 minutes a week of physical exercise. Now a nationwide study has brought to light that four-fifths of GPs in England state they are unfamiliar with the national guidelines, and over one in seven doctors admit they are not confident of bringing up the subject of physical activity with their patients. “Many people have described [physical activity] as the most cost-effective drug we have, yet we are not implementing it properly,” said Justin Varney, co-author of the research from Public Health England (PHE). “This is as appropriate as having a conversation about smoking,” he added. Published in the British Journal of General Practice by Varney and colleagues at PHE, the study was based on an online questionnaire open to GPs in England for a 10-day period during March 2016.

Quotas were put in place to geographically spread out the volume of responses to avoid them being skewed and coming from one region. Participants were asked six multiple choice questions, varying from if they were familiar with the national guidelines on physical activity to selecting medical conditions around which they felt comfortable discussing with a patient. The results, taken from 1,013 doctors, indicated just 20% were familiar with the national guidelines, with 30% conceding that they were unaware of the guidelines at all.

Advertisement Doctors’ familiarity with questionnaires used to gauge patients’ activity levels was similarly hit-and-miss. More than 25% of doctors were unaware of the existence of any such questionnaires, while 55% replied stating they did not utilise such tools. Over half of doctors declared they had received no training regarding encouraging patients to participate in physical activity.

Only 78% of doctors said they would talk to overweight patients about increasing the levels of physical activity, while only 26% agreed they would raise the subject with patients living with dementia or cognitive decline. “Being physically active is a separate conversation from losing weight,” said Varney. “Whatever your weight, if you are more active than someone who is of the same weight and inactive you will be healthier.” The study also found that only 61% of GPs said they were either very or somewhat confident about raising the issue of physical activity with patients, with 16% saying they were somewhat or very unconfident in broaching the topic.

Click here to read the full article by The Guardian

Click here to read the full report 'GPs’ knowledge, use, and confidence in national physical activity and health guidelines and tools: a questionnaire-based survey of general practice in England' by Robin Chatterjee, Tim Chapman, Mike GT Brannan and Justin Varney from the British Journal of General Practice