Obesity and Language, Part 4

Sadly, a nine-author paper from last year found “discriminatory language used by peers and adults, which may be compounded by use within the medical community and in published research.” Those writers analyzed 300 articles from PubMed and found that “only 21.7% were adherent to PCL guidelines.” The abbreviation refers to Person-Centered Language.

Over the past half-century or so, only the manufacturing community seems to have learned a thing or two. Today, we would probably not see an ad like the one shown here. In the 1950s, L. Gidding & Co. sold the Chubbette clothing line through “stores that care.” In addition to a catalog of the offerings, also available by mail was…

“Pounds and Personality” — a booklet for parents of a chubby girl (understanding her problems, talent development, shyness, tactless remarks, the “game” of dieting, etc.) Written by Dr. Gladys Andrews…

Given the negative effects of stigma among children with obesity, it is imperative to advocate for PCL use within the medical community. Increased stringency by journal editors and publishers may be the next step in this process.

More PCL

A recent multi-author paper bears the very explicit title, “Championing the use of people-first language in childhood overweight and obesity to address weight bias and stigma,” and is described as a joint statement from 8 different European, Canadian, and international organizations. They are talking about the realms of clinical practice, research, education, and advocacy communications, and in every area they hope to popularize PCL, also known as person-first and or patient-first language:

The use of compassionate, patient-centred language and imagery is considered a core strategy for addressing weight bias and obesity-related stigma… Biases are largely based on misconceptions of obesity being the result of individual weakness and consequently being an individual’s responsibility to address…

On the contrary, obesity is “a disease with complex biological, genetic, psychosocial and environmental drivers.” Regarding the psychosocial component, children at every stage of development are vulnerable to trauma from being shamed, name-called, teased, scolded, excluded, ridiculed, etc. because of their physical size. Going into excruciating detail about the damage that can be done, the authors list the…

[…] serious lifelong consequences including psychological distress, poorer social and academic outcomes, and adverse physical consequences impacting personality development, self-image, self-esteem and confidence, and overall quality of life.

Regarding such serious outcomes, it is to be hoped that most people would not want to be at cause. Through Wiley.com and whatever other channels are available, the members of these organizations hope to influence others, including “academic institutions, public health-authorities, professional organizations including healthcare, media, public health services and governing bodies.”

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Use of person-centred language among scientific research focused on childhood obesity,” NIH.gov, May 2022
Source: “Chubettes, the badly-named clothing line for overweight girls, 1957,” BoingBoing.net, 11/18/11
Source: “Championing the use of people-first language in childhood overweight and obesity to address weight bias and stigma,” Wiley.com, 04/01/23

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OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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