Obesity and Language, Part 5

We mentioned the coalition of professionals who are trying to make a difference in an important area. Apparently, many who deal with members of the obese public employ a communication style that tends to alienate prospective patients and clients, sending them off into the wilderness of self-treatment by dubious methods, or even no treatment at all.

An ever-increasing number of pros hope to build a better public narrative around childhood obesity, one that reflects current scientific knowledge rather than knee-jerk victim-blaming. Sadly, in the view of these authors at least, obesity-related professionals of all kinds seem weirdly slow to catch on. Apparently, patient-centered language is not making much headway. Consequently…

[…] there is a need for extensive and continued education of all individuals who interact with children and adolescents with obesity across multiple settings, to minimize bias and stigma in their interactions. These individuals include healthcare staff, caregivers, teachers, coaches, peers, siblings, parents and families, who may, either directly or indirectly, contribute to stigmatization.

The Obesity Society allied itself with other organizations based in the U.S., Canada, and Europe to condemn stigmatizing language and encourage an overhaul of the lingo. This is noteworthy because, for the first time, scientific societies and major international organizations have made a point of joining all their voices.

The Obesity Society’s Aaron Kelly, Ph.D., says, “Using people-first language is a seemingly small, yet powerful way, to set the right tone for kids and their families.” But what is people-first language? One example is “people with obesity,” which is preferred over “obese people.” It demonstrates that the speaker is putting the person first, not their disease. This is one of the many areas in which the latest American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines faced a hostile reaction.


Jennifer Gerson reported that one concern people have with the new guidelines is the language:

[…] primarily, the very use of the terms “overweight” and “obesity,” words that research has found to be some of “the most stigmatizing terms.”

The guidelines have prompted a host of questions from experts on children’s general health versus the long-term effects that weight stigma can have on kids. That means taking into account how words like “overweight” and “obese” themselves could hurt children not just today, but in the future. Gerson wrote,

[C]onversations about weight and health with children can be fraught, especially for girls, who disproportionately feel the effects of weight stigma as they internalize messaging from their peers and from their consumption of media at a point in their lives where they are forming their sense of self.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Championing the use of people-first language in childhood overweight and obesity to address weight bias and stigma,” Wiley.com, 04/01/23
Source: “TOS endorses global editorial on people-first language and pediatric obesity,” EurekAlert.org, 04/05/23
Source: “Language for treating childhood obesity carries its own health risks to kids, experts say,” 19thnews.org, 03/09/23
Image by Quinn Dombrowski/CC BY-SA 2.0

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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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