Background Physical inactivity is the fourth leading cause of mortality globally according to the WHO. Several recent studies have highlighted that physical activity (PA) is inadequately covered during UK medical school training.
This study aims to investigate the frequency of PA questions and advice during routine consultations by medical students and junior doctors.
Methods A link to an anonymous online survey was sent to 195 medical students and 68 junior doctors based at a hospital near London. Thirty-four of the fifty responders were medical students.
Results Less than a quarter of respondents routinely asked about PA levels in the medical history. In contrast, more than 90 percent always asked about tobacco and alcohol.
Fear of offending or alienating patients, lack of knowledge and lack of time were the three most common themes identified by responders when asked about the perceived barriers to giving PA advice.
Almost half reported having no teaching on PA guidelines. None of the medical students or junior doctors were able to correctly identify the WHO top 4 global mortality risk factors.
Discussion/Conclusions This study found that clinical medical students and recent graduates rarely include questions or advice about PA in routine medical consultations.
Responders tended to under prioritise physical inactivity as a mortality risk factor, and this may reflect a lack of adequate teaching and emphasis on physical inactivity within medical schools.
Fear of offending of alienating patients was the most frequently cited barrier to giving PA advice. This may be due to the inexperience of juniors, or view that labelling someone as physically inactive is stigmatising.
This study reaffirms previous findings of low levels of teaching about PA in medical schools and identifies lack of knowledge as one of the prime reasons why PA is neglected in routine medical history taking. This calls for urgent action to include PA teaching as a priority in UK medical school teaching.
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