A survey of nearly 400 Edinburgh University medical students, conducted by their peers, also found that only 14.9 per cent knew the exercise guidelines, which suggest adults do 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week.
More than 90 per cent of those surveyed wanted more formal training on how to help patients with exercise and nutrition, according to research published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.
A group of top doctors including Sir Richard Thompson, former president of the Royal College of Physicians, and top cardiologist Dr Aseem Malhotra, has written to Health Secretary Shona Robison as well as the Medical Schools Council and the General Medical Council (GMC) about their concerns.
They said: “The NHS is in crisis and much, if not most, of the increase in demand can be directly attributed to unhealthy lifestyles, such as poor diet, smoking, low levels of physical activity and excess alcohol.”
Obesity presents a major challenges to the NHS as one in four Scottish adults and almost one in five children is obese.
Professor Chris Oliver, a physical activity expert at Edinburgh University who signed the letter, said doctors need to be taught how to prescribe exercise to patients in the face of the growing obesity crisis.
He said: “It does not make sense that tomorrow’s doctors and allied health professionals are not taught about physical activity for health.
“They need to know how to prescribe physical activity. If physical activity were a pill we would all be prescribed it.”
Doctors have an important role to play in keeping patients healthy and should take personal responsibility for reducing their risk of developing chronic conditions, said Dr Peter Bennie, chair of BMA Scotland.
Dr Bennie added: “The NHS in Scotland is facing growing demands for its services and we know that if we are to reduce future pressures we need to address the causes of ill health many of which can be directly attributed to unhealthy lifestyles including poor diet, lack of physical activity, smoking and excess alcohol consumption.”
Katie Petty-Saphon, chief executive of the Medical Schools Council, which represents the UK’s medical schools, said: “An awareness of the importance of nutrition and the ability to communicate with patients on issues such as obesity is already a required outcome for graduating doctors.
“This means that it is part of the training at every medical school – but specific topics are incorporated in a range of ways in different curricula.
“In the next review of the GMC’s ‘Outcomes for graduates’, the Medical Schools Council wishes to see greater emphasis on population health and disease prevention.”