The Use and Meaning of the Term Obesity in Rural Older Adults: A Qualitative Study

J Appl Gerontol. 2021 Apr;40(4):423-432. doi: 10.1177/0733464820903253. Epub 2020 Feb 15.


The term "obesity" is associated with societal stigma and discrimination. Eight individual semi-structured interviews and five focus groups with 29 community-dwelling, rural older adults with obesity, seven primary care clinicians, and four rural community leaders were completed using purposive and snowball sampling. Clinicians perceived that older adults are less affected by obesity stigma than younger adults, yet this was not observed by community leaders; however, older participants with obesity reported that they often felt ashamed and/or stigmatized because of their weight. There was also a disconnect between clinician and older adult understanding of obesity. For older adults with obesity, the word "obesity" was associated with negative connotations. Just as physiological aspects of obesity persist into older adulthood, so do psychological aspects, such as perceptions of stigma. The use of the word "obesity" in medical settings may hinder communication between clinician and older participants. Heightened awareness may change the dialogue around obesity.

Keywords: aging; obesity; older adult; qualitative; stigma.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Focus Groups
  • Humans
  • Obesity* / epidemiology
  • Qualitative Research
  • Rural Population*
  • Social Stigma