Two Reasons for People-First Language in Obesity

Weight bias studies presented at Obesity Week 2013 by ConscienHealth founder Ted Kyle and colleagues provide two reasons for people-first language in obesity.

  1. People-first language is an indication of less explicit weight bias.
  2. People with obesity find people-first language more acceptable from their doctors.

Kyle presented two studies of weight bias and people-first language that led to these conclusions.

People-first language has long been the standard for discussing chronic diseases and disabilities. People-first language means putting people first and not their disease or disability. So both the American Medical Association (AMA) and the American Psychological Association (APA) call for descriptions of “people with autism” or “people with a disability,” rather than “autistic people” or “disabled people.” Yet, when it comes to obesity, many people are in the habit of overlooking this convention.

The first study compared bias against people with obesity to bias against people with diabetes and found much higher levels of bias against people with obesity (p<0.001). In this study, people-first language had a weak effect (p<0.10) of reducing bias against people with diabetes, but no effect on bias against people with obesity.

The second study considered of three separate cohorts of people. The groups were:

  • People who most often use people-first language (”obesity”) to describe people with obesity
  • People who most often use condition-first language (“obese”)
  • People who describe their weight status as obesity or severe overweight

This study found that individuals who use people-first language express less bias against people with obesity (p<0.001). Separately, in the cohort of people who describe their weight status as obesity or severe overweight, a  majority (70%) found people-first language to be more acceptable from their doctor compared to being labeled obese. This preference was particularly strong among women.

Recently, all of the major organizations in the Obesity Care Continuum have called for uniform use of people-first language. Habits may not change overnight, but it’s a measure of respect that’s worth the effort.

Click here to read the position statement of the Obesity Care Continuum on people-first language. Click here and here to read the studies of people-first language presented at Obesity Week 2013.

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