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Help Combat Obesity Stigma and Weight Bias by Making the Small but Significant Change to Use “People-First Language”

| August 1, 2016

Help Combat Obesity Stigma and Weight Bias by Making the Small but Significant Change to Use “People-First Language”

A Message from Dr. Christopher Still

Christopher Still, DO, FACN, FACP, Co-Clinical Editor, Bariatric Times; Medical Director for the Center for Nutrition and Weight Management, and Director for Geisinger Obesity Research Institute, Geisinger Medical Center, Danville, Pennsylvania.


Dear Colleagues,

This month I would like to discuss negative stigma and bias associated with the disease of obesity, especially through language usage. While we have come a long way in changing perceptions and attitudes of obesity, there is still more work to be done. All of us as individuals in healthcare have a responsibility to recognize how weight bias affects our patients and ourselves. We have an obligation to become educated via all available resources so that we may better combat obesity stigma and bias.

According to The Obesity Action Coalition (OAC), weight bias refers to negative stereotypes directed toward individuals affected by excess weight or obesity, which often lead to prejudice and discrimination.[1] The healthcare environment is not immune to such prejudice, even our working environments where we work with individuals with obesity every day. The good news is that there are many wonderful resources directed to healthcare professionals on addressing this important issue. Organizations such as the OAC, Obesity Medicine Association (OMA), The Obesity Society (TOS), and American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery (ASMBS) continually put out resources and address the topic of stigma in presentations.

I encourage you to start your learning journey by reading “Weight bias in healthcare: a guide for healthcare providers working with individuals affected by obesity,” a handout produced by the OAC in collaboration with Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at the University of Connecticut —another organization that has contributed to generating education and awareness around weight bias. This handout explains the research behind weight bias in healthcare and how it affects your patients. It offers tips on how to identify your own biases and how you can improve your approach to addressing the topic of weight. The handout includes a very helpful chart on language, separating the least and most stigmatizing words surrounding the disease of obesity. In addition to these key words, the OAC and above-mentioned organizations have been encouraging usage of “patient- or people-first language.”

I’ve invited my colleague and friend Dr. Scott Kahan, Director of the National Center for Weight and Wellness in Washington, DC, to speak more on this topic.

In a blog contribution published in The Huffington Post,[2] Dr. Kahan discussed the topic further, offering more ways in which physicians can address weight stigma. He says one small but significant change you can make is using people-first (e.g., a patient who has obesity) rather than condition-first language (e.g., an obese patient) Like the OAC, he also encourages the use of least stigmatizing key words, such as “excess weight,” “unhealthy weight,” or “high BMI.”

“These are such small changes, yet they can make a big difference in your interactions with patients, and in patients’ healthcare experiences,” he said of using people-first language.

Using people-first language is something that I have been working on in my conversations with patients, colleagues, friends, family—everyone. I also try to be cognizant and use patient-first language every month in my editorial messages to you. My hope is that the more I practice it, the more familiar it will become to those around me.

The Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at the University of Connecticut has many resources on its website,[3] including the following: Videos Exposing Weight Bias, an online toolkit titled, “Preventing Weight Bias: Helping Without Harming in Clinical Practice,” and Presentations by Rebecca Puhl, PhD. Dr. Puhl, another important player in weight bias education and advocacy, is Director of Research and Weight Stigma Initiatives at the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at the University of Connecticut.

I hope you enjoy reading this issue of Bariatric Times as well as the extra reading I’ve assigned to you on obesity stigma and weight bias in healthcare. Should you have feedback on this message, a past editorial message, or any of the articles published in Bariatric Times, I invite you to e-mail me at cstill@geisinger.edu or submit a Letter to the Editor to asaba@matrixmedcom.com. I’d love to hear from you!

Sincerely,

Christopher Still, DO, FACN, FACP

References

1. The Obesity Action Coalition. Weight bias in healthcare: a guide for healthcare providers working with individuals affected by obesity. 2015. http://www.obesityaction.org/weight-bias-and-stigma/weight-bias-guides/weight-bias-in-healthcare-a-guide-for-healthcare-providers-working-with-individuals-affected-by-obesity. Accessed August 3, 2016.

2. Kahan S. The Perils of Obesity Prejudices. The Huffington Post. 08/04/2015. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/scott-kahan-md/the-perils-of-obesity-pre_b_7926576.html. Accessed August 3, 2016.

3. http://www.uconnruddcenter.org/weight-bias-stigma. Accessed August 3, 2016.

Category: Editorial Message, Past Articles

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