July 11, 2012
The language that health care providers use when discussing their patients’ body weight can reinforce stigma, reduce motivation for weight loss, and potentially lead to avoidance of future medical appointments, according to a study published by the Rudd Center in the International Journal of Obesity.
The study, which examined adults’ perceptions of and reactions to common terms used to describe excess body weight by doctors, shows that patients prefer doctors use neutral language such as “unhealthy weight” rather than words that can be perceived as stigmatizing and blaming, such as “fat” or “morbidly obese.”
The authors asserted that using weight-based terminology that patients feel comfortable with may help facilitate a positive, productive discussion that communicates support and respect for patients in their efforts to become healthier, rather than instill stigma and blame.
The study was coauthored by the Rudd Center’s Rebecca Puhl, PhD, Director of Research and Weight Stigma Initiatives; Jamie Lee Peterson, MA, Research Associate; and Joerg Luedicke, MS, Biostatistician.