Examining Students' Attitudes towards Obesity

Thursday, 2 August 2012: 3:55 PM

Julie Y. Sappington, PhD, RN
Department of Nursing, Southeast Missouri State University, Cape Girardeau, MO

Learning Objective 1: The learner will be able to describe examples of bias commonly experienced by individuals who are obese.

Learning Objective 2: The learner will be able to discuss three strategies to help students explore and critically reflect on their attitudes toward obesity.


The purpose of this study was to determine if an educational intervention would affect students’ attitudes towards obesity. According to the World Health Organization, obesity is a global health issue with more than 1 billion overweight adults worldwide, at least 300 million of them obese. An effective clinical response includes care from health care providers who can educate and encourage those affected by this health issue. Yet evidence suggests healthcare professionals, including nurses, often display bias towards obese individuals which can negatively affect health outcomes (Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity).


Students in two sections of a health issues course (intervention group) took part in assignments and class discussions regarding health and social issues related to obesity, including information on weight bias. Following this content, the intervention groups' (n=45) attitudes toward obesity were assessed using the Implicit Association Test, a timed, word categorization test. Two other sections of the course, the control group, (n=35) received no class content on obesity before taking the Implicit Association Test.


Results from the two groups were compared to determine if the educational intervention had an effect on attitudes towards obesity. The mean score for the Intervention group was 17.31 (s.d.= 10.07) and the mean score for the control group was 16.33 (s.d.=8.65). An unpaired t test was run on the raw scores with a resulting P value of .6370. Scores indicated bias existed in both groups and there was no significant difference between the control and intervention group.


The educational intervention was not effective in significantly changing students’ attitudes. However, participating in the study increased students’ awareness of health and social issues related to obesity and helped them critically evaluate their own attitudes toward this issue.