FNPs Curbing the Obesity Epidemic

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patient stepping onto scale

Obesity has reached epidemic proportions. Some 93 million Americans are obese. That’s nearly 40 percent of adults and 18.5 percent of children, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The consequences of those extra pounds can be severe. Obesity is linked to a number of chronic and severe conditions, including Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and high blood pressure and has become a leading preventable cause of death.

“Obesity is a grave public health threat, more serious even than the opioid epidemic,” declares the Commonwealth Fund. “Opiates can kill quickly and dramatically, but obesity kills just as surely. This epidemic deserves urgent attention.”

The increase in obesity isn’t a problem limited to the United States or other advanced nations. The World Health Organization calls obesity “a complex condition, one with serious social and psychological dimensions, that affects virtually all age and socioeconomic groups and threatens to overwhelm both developed and developing countries.”

Helping people live healthier lives is a major answer to the question, why get a master’s in nursing. Registered nurses (RNs) who earn an online master’s in nursing and become family nurse practitioners (FNPs) can develop skills and knowledge that will help them counsel patients on maintaining a healthy weight and, in a greater sense, help curb the national obesity epidemic.

Behind the Weight Gain

Obesity is generally defined as a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or more. People with a BMI between 25 and 29.9 are considered overweight.

The roots of obesity are varied, but the results are the same: people gain weight when they take in more calories than they expend in energy. On the “calories in” side of the equation, Medical News Today notes that weight gain can be connected to consumption of:

  • Fast food
  • Fried food
  • Foods with added sugar, such as baked goods and sugary cereals
  • Foods with hidden sugar, such as ketchup or packaged food items
  • Processed, high-carb foods such as bread

People also lead more sedentary lives these days – working in an office, driving instead of walking, playing computer games rather than exercising outside. But the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development points out that environmental factors also come into play:

  • Not having nearby parks, sidewalks, and affordable gyms makes physical activity more of a challenge.
  • Oversized food portions lead to increased calorie intake, which means people need even more activity to maintain a healthy weight.
  • Lack of access to supermarkets that sell affordable healthy foods, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, can affect people’s food habits.
  • Advertising encourages people to buy high-fat snacks and sugary drinks.

Family Nurse Practitioners on the Front Line

As medical professionals who work with patients of all ages, including children, FNPs are ideally situated to diagnose patients with obesity. The relationships they build with patients are what makes the nurse practitioner role in obesity so effective.

“Obesity management should begin in the primary care arena with the NP who provides high-quality, patient-centered care,” Sue Ellen Gondran, DNP, APRN, FNP-BC, writes in NP Journal, a publication of the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP). “Research continues to report that the provider-patient relationship is fundamental to patient commitment to initiate and adhere to lifestyle changes.”

FNPs, she notes, “are skilled in utilizing motivational interviewing and shared decision-making to facilitate effective communications and partnerships with patients.”

Recognizing that weight can be a sensitive subject is the first step in talking to patients. Patients may don’t know where to start or how to ask for help.

FNPs should open the conversation by helping patients identify their health goals and discussing plans to help patients succeed. FNPs can also counsel patients about the long-term effects of obesity-related conditions and how even incremental weight loss can help. FNPs should be careful not to be overzealous, however. Someone who seeks care for a sore throat doesn’t want a care provider to make everything about weight.

Prevention is the best approach, and for patients without obesity- or overweight-related issues, FNPs can discuss general weight management. A healthy diet and consistent exercise are keys to maintaining and improving overall health.

Obesity in Children

Obesity has become the most common chronic disease of childhood, according to Obesity Action, a national education and advocacy organization.

“Today, more and more children are being diagnosed with diabetes, hypertension and other co-morbid conditions associated with obesity and morbid obesity,” the organization’s website says.

FNPs need to take a different approach when treating younger people.

“Involving the family in a child’s weight management program is a key element to treatment. As a support system, family is integral in ensuring weight management goals are met,” Obesity Action says. A referral to a nutritionist can help families understand healthier eating habits. Nutritionists rarely suggest calorie restriction for growing children, instead focusing on education, portion control, and healthier eating habits.

Curbing the obesity epidemic will require sustained commitment to helping people understand the myriad factors involved in weight management. Earning an online master’s in nursing can prepare FNPs to provide patients of all ages with the information they need to live healthier lives.

About the Duquesne Online Master’s in Nursing Program

Duquesne University is consistently recognized as a leader in nursing education, most recently in the “Best Online Graduate Nursing Programs” list by U.S. News & World Report. All of Duquesne University’s nursing programs are accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE*), which is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.

The online MSN program provides one-on-one faculty mentorships and a 100% online curriculum. Graduates may go on to complete the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners Certification Board (AANPCP) and American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) Family Nurse Practitioner certification examinations. For more information, contact Duquesne University today.

 *The baccalaureate degree program in nursing, master’s degree program in nursing, Doctor of Nursing Practice program and the post-graduate APRN certificate program at Duquesne University are accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (http://www.ccneaccreditation.org).


Prevalence of obesity: CDC

Rising Obesity in the United States is a Public Health crisis: Commonwealth Fund

Controlling the global obesity epidemic: World Health Organization

Causes of obesity: Medical News Today

Environmental factors: National Institute of Child Health and Human Development

Role of the Nurse Practitioner in Obesity Management: NPJournal.org.

Talking with Patients about Weight Loss: Tips for Primary Care Providers : NIH