Physical activity education for doctors is 'poor'

Medical students are not receiving enough physical activity education, which may hinder attempts to promote exercise to patients, researchers have said.

Physical activity: lack of education for doctors may undermine their ability to promote exercise (Photo:
Physical activity: lack of education for doctors may undermine their ability to promote exercise (Photo:

A study from University College London found medical school teaching on physical activity is ‘sparse or non-existent’ and may leave future doctors unprepared to promote exercise effectively.

NICE guidelines encourage doctors to promote physical activity in clinical settings to combat the rising tide of serious disease associated with lack of exercise.

But the researchers’ ‘alarming’ findings showed there is a widespread omission of basic teaching elements on physical activity in the majority of UK medical schools.

Researchers delivered a questionnaire to all 31 UK medical schools and achieved a 100% response rate, although response rates for individual questions varied.

Five out of 29 responding medical schools did not include any specific physical activity training within their curricula. Only 15 of 27 schools teach the current CMO guidance for physical activity.

Time spent teaching physical activity science and promotion during UK medical school education is four hours – a negligible amount compared with the 109 hours spent teaching pharmacology.

The study, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, concluded: ‘It is not clear if tomorrow’s doctors will be adequately prepared to counsel patients on physical activity behaviour change to reduce the unsustainable burden of the broad range of "inactivity"-related diseases.’

The study added: ‘The results from this paper should therefore generate much needed discussion and further research to assess the best methods for teaching physical activity science and promotion to future healthcare professions.’

Several medical schools commented that this survey had prompted them to look into their lack of physical activity education.

In July 2011, England's CMO urged GPs to consider in every consultation whether to advise patients to be more physically active.

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