Why Ignore People-First Language for Obesity?

Both the American Medical Association and the American Psychological Association require authors to use people-first language in their journals, to “avoid labeling (and thus equating) people with their disabilities or diseases.” By and large, the public and professionals are respectful in this way toward people affected by conditions like diabetes, autism, asthma, and other conditions. But this is not true for obesity. Condition-first language dominates for obesity, and calling someone obese is far more common than acknowledging that they have obesity.

A quick web search for the phrase “people with autism” will return roughly 20 times more results than a search for “autistic people.” You’ll get the opposite results for obesity.

The word obese feels like a rude label that’s used all too often by health providers. It’s no wonder that Rebecca Puhl at the Yale Rudd Center found parents of children with obesity clearly preferred any adjective other than obese when health professionals talk about their children.

So why do people persist in labeling people as obese,  when they would never label someone as a disabled person? It’s just as simple to talk about obesity. The likely culprit is weight bias.

Words matter. Words can do great harm. Obesity is a health condition we can treat — we can deal with it.

Obese is is a label puts people in a box. That’s harm we need not inflict.

Click here to read more on the Obesity Action Coalition’s website and click here to read Puhl study about parental perceptions of weight terminology.

Respect image © DocteurCosmos /Wikimedia