Hands and feet

September 2009


How do rural GPs manage their inactive and overweight patients?

A pilot study of rural GPs in Queensland

Volume 38, No.9, September 2009 Pages 747-748

Diann Eley

Robert M Eley


Overweight and obesity are major risk factors for chronic disease. Physical activity plays an important role in increasing wellbeing and reducing weight. General practitioners’ advice and intervention can help patients increase their physical activity. This pilot study is part of a larger study investigating physical activity opportunities in rural Queensland.


A survey was sent to a random sample of 40 general practices in rural Queensland. The survey asked GPs about strategies they use when dealing with patients who would benefit from exercise, their use of Lifescripts, the main perceived barriers to exercise in their location, perceptions on change in exercise patterns over 5 years, and local resources and referral networks available in their location. The data was analysed using a five stage framework and coded into themes.


A total of 67.5% of practices responded. The primary strategy GP respondents used to address overweight was discussion and advice. Fifteen of the 27 respondents referred patients to allied health professionals and local sport/recreation organisations. Lack of physical and human resources to encourage and support weight loss was the main perceived barrier to helping patients achieve physical activity and weight loss goals.


Behavioural factors are globally acknowledged as the biggest barriers to exercise. The GPs surveyed recognise that, for most people, external support is essential for ongoing exercise compliance and motivation. This can be in the form of discussion with, and advice from, the GP, or referral to gyms or other services. Respondents identified limited facilities and support in rural areas as barriers. Formalisation of referral pathways and follow up is currently lacking and could assist rural GPs in helping their patients to exercise and lose weight.

The increasing burden of chronic disease places greater demands on primary care to develop and implement strategies to manage lifestyle risk factors. Overweight and obesity are major risk factors for chronic disease. Physical activity, by reducing patients’ weight and increasing their wellbeing, has been identified as an important means to manage these factors. Studies show that intervention and advice through primary care is effective in increasing physical activity in patients;1–4 however little is known about weight management strategies used in rural primary care.

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Correspondence afp@racgp.org.au

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