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Practice nurses and obesity: professional and practice-based factors affecting role adequacy and role legitimacy

  • Christine Nolan (a1) (a2), Ann Deehan (a3), Ann Wylie (a4) and Roger Jones (a5)

This qualitative study explored the professional and practice-based factors affecting the role legitimacy and adequacy of practice nurses in managing obese patients.


There are strong clinical, financial and practical reasons for tackling obesity in UK general practice. Although practice nurses may seem to be in an ideal position to manage obesity, there remain questions about their role adequacy (sense of self-efficacy in responding to patients’ problems) and role legitimacy (their perceived boundaries of professional responsibility and right to intervene).


Semi-structured face-to-face interviews were conducted with 22 practice nurses in Lambeth, Southwark and Lewisham in South London. Interviews were digitally recorded and transcribed. Key themes were identified following coding of the data.


Factors that positively affected nurses’ role adequacy and legitimacy were: their belief that obesity management was part of their chronic disease management and health promotion remit; their confidence in their own communication skills and ability to build rapport with patients; having attended training and being supported to take extra time for obesity management. Factors negatively affecting their role legitimacy and adequacy were: their low awareness and use of guidance; lack of knowledge of referral options; limited knowledge and use of non-medical and non-persuasive approaches; perceived lack of expertise in motivating patients, as well as in nutrition, child obesity and assessment; belief that there were some contexts in which it was more appropriate to raise the issue than others; lack of culturally appropriate materials and language barriers; belief that they had limited impact on outcome and that the patient is responsible for lack of success. Other factors negatively affecting their role adequacy and legitimacy included their ambivalence about the effectiveness of the interventions offered; perceived lack of priority for obesity management within practices; lack of time; workload and lack of clarity on protocols and roles within the practice.

Corresponding author
Correspondence to: Christine Nolan, Flat 2, 105-107 South Norwood Hill, London SE25 6BY, UK. Email:
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Primary Health Care Research & Development
  • ISSN: 1463-4236
  • EISSN: 1477-1128
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