Don’t Call Me Obese

October 13, 2012 — The heartfelt plea of a former Pittsburgh Post-Gazette staff writer named Tom Barnes appeared today in that paper’s"Saturday Diary" essay column. Barnes’s wish: Don’t call him "obese." Barnes, who is five foot nine inches and 215 pounds, was stunned to find at a doctor’s appointment he is classified as obese. "I always thought that was for extremely fat guys," Barnes writes, "like Japanese sumo wrestlers or first baseman Prince Fielder or New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Yet, according to that darn chart, I’m in the club, too." According to Barnes, he doesn’t mind "overweight," but "obese" strikes him as unfair and hurtful.

Barnes echoes something that many of us with excess weight feel. And according to experts, the stigma associated with certain terms used to describe the status of being overweight can actually keep people from seeking help. A recent study conducted by Dr. Rebecca Puhl, the Director of Research at the Rudd Center for Food Policy at Yale, an expert in weight bias, among parents asked them to rate ten terms used to describe children with excess weight, terms like "obese," "fat," "chubby," "unhealthy weight," and "high BMI" for attributes like "desirable," "stigmatizing," and "motivating." "Weight" and "unhealthy weight" were rated as the most desirable. "Fat," "obese," and "extremely obese" were rated as the most stigmatizing. The study suggests that the use of stigmatizing terms by healthcare providers might be hindering efforts to help children lose weight. Tom Barnes didn’t know how right he was. 

You can read Barnes’s essyay in the Post-Gazette here and an abstract of Dr. Puhl’s study here.