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AMA Says Watch Your Language! Combatting Obesity Stigma

>> Tuesday, July 4, 2017






As blogged previously (see here and here and here and here and here), obesity stigma is a major problem in our society, and sadly, even worse amongst health care providers.  To combat this stigma, the American Medical Association has stepped up and passed a resolution to destigmatize obesity.

Obesity stigma in a medical office can take several forms, which we can categorize as direct, or indirect: 


Direct obesity stigma examples:

  • referring to a patient as an 'obese patient', rather than a 'patient with obesity' (more on this below)
  • using terms like 'fat' or 'morbidly obese'
  • telling a person they are lazy or that it is their fault that they have obesity
  • any other form of 'fat shaming'
Indirect obesity stigma examples: 
  • furniture in the office is not appropriate (eg chairs with armrests that restrict size; exam tables are too narrow; stools to step up on to exam table are too narrow)
  • weight scale maximum is too low
  • magazines in waiting room are promoting of thin body image (eg fashion magazines that often arrive at a doctor's office for free)

To combat these stigma, the resolution, which was authored by members of the Obesity Medicine Association, calls for: 

1.  Use of Person-First Language in all discussions: 'person with obesity', not 'obese person'.  Remember that obesity is a diagnosis, not an adjective to describe a person.

2. Use of preferred terms when discussing obesity, such as 'weight' or 'unhealthy weight', and avoiding stigmatizing words like 'fat'.

3. Equipping the medical office with appropriately sized chairs, blood pressure cuffs, scales, examination gowns etc. 

I hope that with the AMA passing this resolution, that more much needed attention is drawn to the critical need to destigmatize obesity.  Educating health care professionals on obesity is desperately lacking in all aspects of the disease; if health care providers were to better understand the pathophysiology of obesity, this would help to break down the stigma against it.

I am hopeful that editors of medical journals and textbooks will heed and follow this resolution - non-patient-first language still plagues almost all scientific publications and guidelines around the world.  Clearly, more awareness and education is needed to break down the obesity stigma - please feel free to share this blog post to disseminate the word!



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