What's in a name? Patients' preferred terms for describing obesity

Obes Res. 2003 Sep;11(9):1140-6. doi: 10.1038/oby.2003.155.


Objective: To determine the terms that obese individuals find undesirable or desirable for their doctors to use to describe excess weight of 27.3 kg (i.e., 50 lb) or more.

Research methods and procedures: The study surveyed 167 women and 52 men with a mean BMI of 35.3 and 35.1 kg/m(2), respectively, who participated in one of two randomized trials on the treatment of obesity. An additional sample consisted of 105 extremely obese women (i.e., mean BMI of 52.5 kg/m(2)) who sought bariatric surgery. Patients rated the desirability of 11 terms used to describe excess weight. Ratings were made on five-point scales, ranging from very desirable (+2) to neutral (0) to very undesirable (-2).

Results: Obese women (N = 167) rated as undesirable to very undesirable the terms fatness (mean rating = -1.8), excess fat (-1.4), obesity (-1.4), and large size (-1.3). These four terms were rated as significantly more (all p < or = 0.001) undesirable than the seven remaining descriptors, which included weight, heaviness, BMI, excess weight, unhealthy body weight, weight problem, and unhealthy BMI. The term weight received a mean rating of 1.1, a value significantly more (all p < or = 0.001) desirable than that for all other descriptors. Highly similar ratings of the terms were provided by obese men (N = 52) and extremely obese women (N = 105).

Discussion: Practitioners may wish to avoid the use of potentially derogatory terms such as fatness and obesity when broaching the topic of weight management with patients.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Body Mass Index
  • Communication*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Obesity / psychology*
  • Obesity, Morbid / psychology*
  • Physicians / psychology*
  • Prejudice