237807 Choose your words wisely: Public preferences and perceptions of weight terminology used by health providers

Monday, October 31, 2011: 10:45 AM

Rebecca Puhl, PhD , Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity, Yale University, New Haven, CT
Jamie Lee Peterson, MA , Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity, Yale University, New Haven, CT
Joerg Luedicke, MS , Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity, Yale University, New Haven
In 2010, the British Public Health Minister urged healthcare providers to tell their obese patients that they are “fat” rather than “obese” in order to motivate them to become healthier. Although the intentions of this announcement may have been initiated from goals to promote public health, the potential for obese patients to become stigmatized from this recommendation could instead be harmful. The author will present original research which examined public perceptions of weight-based terminology used by health care providers to describe excess weight, including perceived stigma, blame, and motivation to reduce weight. A national sample of American adults (N = 1,064) and parents (N = 521) completed a survey to assess perceptions of common weight-based terms to describe excess body weight, and reactions to weight stigmatization from providers. The terms “weight” and “unhealthy weight” were rated as most desirable, and the terms “unhealthy weight” and “overweight” were rated to be the most motivating to lose weight. The terms “morbidly obese”, “fat”, and “obese” were rated as the most stigmatizing and blameful language used by health providers. Findings were consistent across socio-demographic variables and body weight categories. Furthermore, 19% of adults and 24% of parents reported that they would avoid future medical appointments if their provider used stigmatizing language about their weight. This research challenges recent recommendations made by public health officials to encourage health providers to call their obese patients “fat”, and has implications for specific strategies that providers can use to improve health care and address obesity.

Learning Areas:
Provision of health care to the public
Public health or related education
Social and behavioral sciences

Learning Objectives:
1. Describe the nature and extent of weight bias against obese patients in health care settings 2. Identify language about body weight that is perceived by patients to be stigmatizing, blaming, and motivating to lose weight 3. Discuss specific strategies that providers can use to facilitate positive, non-biased discussions about weight with their overweight and obese patients

Keywords: Obesity, Patient Perspective

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: For over a decade, I have conducted extensive research and published many studies on stigma and discrimination against overweight and obese individuals.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.