Obesity and Language, Part 7

In ancient Latin, “super” meant above, over, on top of, or beyond — pretty much the same as the German “uber” or the recent American slang usage of “extra.” In itself, “super” does not connote positivity or negativity, but only intensifies the adjective it is there to modify. “Grandpa is super-nice today” or “Grandpa is super-grouchy today” — it works either way. Super can also become part of a noun. There are super-heroes, and super-villains.

But in contemporary America, some people have a lot of trouble with the word. One of them is Roxane Gay, who in 2017 published a book titled Hunger. The author is a 6’3″ woman whose weight once topped out at 577 pounds, and who seems to have usually hovered around 500 lbs. Her book included such anecdotes as what might happen on an errand run:

At the grocery store people make commentary on what’s in your cart. They’ll take food out of your cart.

Random members of the public will also offer unsolicited advice, like suggestions to get some exercise, as if it were an exotic concept to which she had never been exposed. Writer Derek Hawkins tells us how, in the course of standard promotional activities, Gay was a guest on a podcast called Mamamia.

As part of the introductory material, creative director Mia Freedman shared with listeners the kind of questions that enter the mind of a show producer who strives to be a good host. Would the elevator be able to handle the job of bringing the guest upstairs? Will the distance from the elevator to the studio be too far for her to walk? Is there a chair on the premises that is both comfortable and adequate for the task?

Wrong move

In acquainting her audience with the sort of obstacles that the guest encountered daily, Freedman meant to contribute to the general theme of the interview. But Gay went public with her reaction of being appalled, and described the situation as “disgusting and shameful.”

By way of introduction, the interviewer described the author by the official medical term, “super morbidly obese.” Some people are offended by the phrase, which is legit medical diagnostic language. But it gets even worse.

The incident caused a degree of furor because, among other things, the interviewer had expressed doubt that there could be a classification beyond super morbidly obese. But there is, actually, an additional category called “super super morbidly obese.” Yes, two “supers.”

The World Health Organization defines adult obesity as a BMI ≥30 kg/m2. However, recent spikes in the disease have prompted additional classifications, including severe obesity as a BMI ≥40 kg/m2, super obesity as a BMI ≥50 kg/m2, and super-super obesity as a BMI ≥60 kg/m2.

Aside from the many problems of everyday life and health, super-super obese surgical patients are more challenging to oxygenate, ventilate, monitor, and anesthetize properly during the procedure. They are more prone to experience postoperative complications, and more difficult to appropriately prescribe pain medication for. All this is difficult but impossible. Experts say,

Although individual facilities worldwide vary in strategy, a major consideration should be utilizing this affordable technology in these higher risk patients as a best practice standard.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “ What That Roxane Gay Controversy Says About Taking Up Space As A Fat Woman,” Refinery29.com, 06/13/17
Source: “Roxane Gay blasts women’s website’s ‘cruel and humiliating remarks about her size,” WashingtonPost.com, 06/14/23
Source: “The patient with obesity and super-super obesity: Perioperative anesthetic considerations,” NIH.gov, 06/20/22

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

FAQs and Media Requests: Click here…

Profiles: Kids Struggling with Weight

Profiles: Kids Struggling with Obesity top bottom

The Book

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.

Food & Health Resources