Obese patients should be able to pick what language doctors use to refer to their excess weight, experts have said.
Many people find words such as ‘fat’, ‘chubby’ or ‘plus-size’ upsetting or offensive, a study undertaken in the UK has found.
Researchers suggested that GPs and other healthcare workers should make a “conscious effort” to ask patients prior to appointments what terms they prefer.
Many patients said more neutral language such as “overweight” or “body mass index” was less distressing.
A study by the University of Leeds and University College London examined the importance of language used by doctors, nurses and midwives when addressing overweight patients.
Nearly 3 000 adults, most of whom were overweight or obese, were asked what terms they preferred, and were questioned about their emotional response to different words.
Words including ‘chubby’, ‘superobese’ and ‘fat’ were found to provoke the highest feelings of sadness, disgust, contempt and anger. These emotions can undermine attempts to get patients to engage with weight loss programmes and may deter them from seeking medical support, experts said.
The authors of the study said that, if possible, healthcare professionals should ask patients for their “preferred weight-related terminology” before consultations.
Lead author, Dr Stuart William Flint from the University of Leeds, said: “The general message for healthcare professionals is to be more cautious about the terms they are using because it can have a detrimental impact.
“Patients should be asked what term they prefer to be used in the consultations where it is necessary to discuss weight. If you’re going to speak about weight management or weight, start by eliciting what the patient’s preferred terms are.
“There is no one-size-fits-all approach regarding which language to use. Some people may prefer ‘overweight’ or ‘obesity’.
“Some people dislike the term ‘fat’ because it is often associated with bullying in schools, leading to feelings of anger and disgust,” said Flint.
“It is important to ensure people are comfortable and at ease so that they will want to continue to engage in a positive fashion.”
“Use of inappropriate language can have a negative impact on the patient-doctor relationship. This not only has a negative impact on someone’s emotional and mental health, it can also deter them from seeking medical or healthcare support in the future,” he said. – MailOnline