Medical EducationBRIEF REPORT

First-Year Osteopathic Medical Students’ Knowledge of and Attitudes Toward Physical Activity

Emily Hill Guseman, PhD; Jonathon Whipps, MS; Cheryl A. Howe, PhD; and Elizabeth A. Beverly, PhD
Notes and Affiliations
Notes and Affiliations

Received: December 12, 2017

Accepted: February 5, 2018

Published: June 1, 2018

J Osteopath Med; 118(6): 389-395

Context: Current guidelines recommend that primary care physicians provide physical activity counseling as part of routine preventive health care. However, education regarding physical activity counseling often is not included or is inadequately covered in medical school curriculum, and it is unclear whether future physicians are prepared to offer effective counseling in this area.

Objectives: To examine first-year medical students’ knowledge of and attitudes toward physical activity and the importance of physical activity in patient counseling.

Methods: An anonymous electronic survey was distributed to all first-year students enrolled at the Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine. The survey assessed students’ knowledge, beliefs, and behavior regarding physical activity and physical activity counseling for patients. The frequencies of students’ weekly physical activity were computed to assess students’ physical activity behaviors. Attitudes toward personal importance of physical activity and physical activity counseling in primary care were also assessed by response frequency. The relationship between students’ knowledge of and participation in physical activity and the priority placed on exercise for future patients were assessed by correlation.

Results: Of 243 potential participants, 144 students (59.3%) returned the survey. The majority of students (131 of 144 [91.0%]) indicated that living a healthy lifestyle was very or extremely important to them, and 125 of 144 (86.9%) prioritized physical activity as moderately, very, or extremely important. Of 122 students, 81 (66.4%) exercised for at least 30 minutes on 3 or more of the past 7 days, and 36 (29.5%) reported doing so on 5 or more of the past 7 days. Nearly all of the students (127 of 133 [95.5%]) indicated that exercise is important for their future patients, 97 of 133 (72.9%) indicated feeling moderately or extremely comfortable counseling patients on exercise, and 113 of 134 (84.3%) desired to include physical activity counseling in their practice. Fifty of 134 students (40.3%) indicated that they were aware of current physical activity recommendations for adults in the United States; however, of these 50 students, 1 (2.0%) provided a correct definition of the national recommendations.

Conclusions: Although students prioritized healthy lifestyles for themselves and their future patients and indicated a desire to include physical activity counseling as part of routine clinical care, the majority were unaware of the current physical activity recommendations. Thus, there is a need to address physical activity recommendations in the medical school curriculum.

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