Dodging Obesity: Euphemisms Don’t Help

The language of obesity is a tricky business. Nobody likes being called obese. But it doesn’t stop there. Common wisdom tells clinicians to be very careful about the O-word in any form. Obesity clinics don’t tend to have long lines of patients waiting at the door. Weight management clinics attract more clients. However, new research suggests that euphemisms might not help.

Language for Understanding Obesity

Understanding a health condition is tough when you can’t talk about it. So Christina Hopkins and Gary Bennett asked 436 adults with overweight or obesity about three different clinical encounters. The descriptions randomly varied the use of four different weight-related terms: weight, BMI, obesity, or fat.

Afterward, they asked questions to measure self-efficacy, understanding of obesity, and interest in clinical care. Of course, fat was the least helpful word. It got in the way of understanding the condition. But actually naming obesity turned out to be helpful.

Using the O-word gave respondents a greater sense of self-efficacy. They felt more control over the condition. Hopkins and Bennett concluded that euphemisms don’t help. If you want to deal with a condition, you need to talk about it.

Click here for the study. You can find more on the sensitive language of obesity here and here.

Dodgeball, photograph © kevinzahri / flickr

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September 29, 2018

2 Responses to “Dodging Obesity: Euphemisms Don’t Help”

  1. September 29, 2018 at 7:32 am, Angie Golden said:

    So glad to read this. If we want obesity to be known for the disease then we have to name it. And there are lines for obesity clinics named as such,I have a waiting list for new patients for NP Obesity Treatment Clinic. I think we are moving forward for the chronic disease and am glad to see this post and study. Thanks as always Ted for making us all be thoughtful! Sincerely, Dr. Angie Golden, Family Nurse Practitioner

  2. September 29, 2018 at 9:39 am, Allen Browne said:

    Patients respond well to honesty – especially about the facts of the disease.

    Thanks, Ted.