Preferred weight-related terminology by parents of children with obesity

Acta Paediatr. 2019 Apr;108(4):712-717. doi: 10.1111/apa.14538. Epub 2018 Sep 7.


Aim: In order to improve weight-related discussion with patients and minimise their discomfort, the terminology used by medical staff should be carefully chosen. The aim of the study was to identify the most motivating weight-related terminology to use with children with obesity.

Methods: Focus groups were used to generate a list of 12 weight-related terms in Hebrew, sent by a questionnaire to parents of children and adolescents with obesity. Terms were graded according to how desirable, stigmatising, blaming or motivating they were perceived. We identified the most positive and negative weight-based terms and conducted linear regressions to predict child motivation to lose weight when positive terms are used.

Results: The least stigmatising and most motivating and desirable terms were 'unhealthy body weight' and 'unhealthy lifestyle'. Medical staff mostly used 'overweight', which was relatively inoffensive yet not very motivating. 'Fat/obese' ('Shamen') was the most stigmatising and blaming term and the least desired. Only 20% of parents endorsed a nonverbal graphical tool to describe body size.

Conclusion: Our findings encourage using health-based terminology over weight-based terminology to promote treatment and lifestyle changes in children with obesity. Healthcare professionals should adopt patient-centred care and improve the weight-related terms they use with children with obesity.

Keywords: Bias; Discrimination; Overweight; Stigma; Youth.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Attitude to Health*
  • Body Weight*
  • Child
  • Consumer Behavior
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Motivation
  • Parents / psychology*
  • Pediatric Obesity*
  • Terminology as Topic*
  • Young Adult