Duty of care trumps utilitarianism in multi-professional obesity management decisions

Toni McAloon, Vivien Coates, Donna Fitzsimons

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
33 Downloads (Pure)


Escalating levels of obesity place enormous and growing demands on Health care provision in the (U.K.) United Kingdom. Resources are limited with increasing and competing demands upon them. Ethical considerations underpin clinical decision making generally, but there is limited evidence regarding the relationship between these variables particularly in terms of treating individuals with obesity.

Research aim
To investigate the views of National Health Service (NHS) clinicians on navigating the ethical challenges and decision making associated with obesity management in adults with chronic illness.

Research design
A cross-sectional, multi-site survey distributed electronically.

A consensus sample of nurses, doctors, dietitians and final year students in two NHS Trusts and two Universities.

Ethical considerations
Ethical and governance approvals obtained from a National Ethics Committee (11NIR035), two universities and two teaching hospitals.

Of the total (n = 395) participants, the majority were nurses (48%), female (79%) and qualified clinicians (59%). Participants strongly considered the individual to have primary responsibility for a healthy weight and an obligation to attempt to maintain that healthy weight if they wish to access NHS care. Yet two thirds would not withhold treatment for patients with obesity.

While clinicians were clear about patient responsibility and obligations, the majority prioritised their duty of care and would not invoke a utilitarian approach to decision making. This may reflect awareness of obesity as a multi-faceted entity, with responsibility for support and management shared amongst society in general.

The attitudes of this sample of clinicians complemented the concept of the health service as being built on a principle of community, with each treated according to their need. However limited resources challenge the concept of needs-based decisions consequently societal engagement is necessary to agree a pragmatic way forward.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1401-1414
Number of pages14
JournalNursing Ethics
Issue number6
Early online date27 May 2022
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 1 Sept 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2022.


  • Issues
  • ethics and legal aspects
  • Obesity management
  • multi-professional
  • rights
  • utility
  • equity
  • Original Manuscripts
  • Obesity Management
  • State Medicine
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Humans
  • Obesity/complications
  • Adult
  • Female
  • Ethical Theory


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