University of Massachusetts Medical School Faculty Publications

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Department of Population and Quantitative Health Sciences, Division of Preventive and Behavioral Medicine

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Behavior and Behavior Mechanisms | Medical Education


BACKGROUND: Given the rising rates of obesity there is a pressing need for medical schools to better prepare students for intervening with patients who have overweight or obesity and for prevention efforts.

OBJECTIVE: To assess the effect of a multi-modal weight management curriculum on counseling skills for health behavior change.

DESIGN: A pair-matched, group-randomized controlled trial (2015-2020) included students enrolled in eight U.S. medical schools randomized to receive either multi-modal weight management education (MME) or traditional weight management education (TE).

SETTING/PARTICIPANTS: Students from the class of 2020 (N=1305) were asked to participate in an objective structured clinical examination (OSCE) focused on weight management counseling and complete pre and post surveys. A total of 70.1% of eligible students (N=915) completed the OSCE and 69.3% (N=904) completed both surveys.

INTERVENTIONS: The MME implemented over three years included a web-based course, a role-play classroom exercise, a web-patient encounter with feedback, and an enhanced clerkship experience with preceptors trained in weight management counseling (WMC). Counseling focused on the 5As (Ask, Advise, Assess, Assist, Arrange) and patient-centeredness.

MEASUREMENTS: The outcome was student 5As WMC skills assessed using an objective measure, an OSCE, scored using a behavior checklist, and a subjective measure, student self-reported skills for performing the 5As.

RESULTS: Among MME students who completed two of three WMC components compared to those who completed none, exposure was significantly associated with higher OSCE scores and self-reported 5A skills.

LIMITATIONS: Variability in medical schools requiring participation in the WMC curriculum.

CONCLUSIONS: This trial revealed that medical students struggle with delivering weight management counseling to their patients who have overweight or obesity. Medical schools, though restrained in adding curricula, should incorporate should incorporate multiple WMC curricula components early in medical student education to provide knowledge and build confidence for supporting patients in developing individualized plans for weight management.



medical school curriculum, medical student behaviors, objective structured clinical examination, randomized controlled trial, weight management counseling

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Copyright © The Author(s) 2021. Open Access This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article's Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article's Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit

DOI of Published Version



Ockene JK, Pbert L, Crawford S, Frisard CF, Pendharkar JA, Sadasivam RS, Faro J, Okuliar C, Eno C, Margo K, Shaw MA, Soleymani T, Stadler DD, Warrier S, White K, Geller AC. Teaching Medical Students to Help Patients Manage Their Weight: Outcomes of an Eight-School Randomized Controlled Trial. J Gen Intern Med. 2021 Apr 9:1–8. doi: 10.1007/s11606-020-06571-x. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 33835315; PMCID: PMC8034040. Link to article on publisher's site


Full author list omitted for brevity. For the full list of authors, see article.

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Journal of general internal medicine

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Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.