Weight terms carry stigma, study finds

New Zealand's first national study on the subject has suggested how healthcare professionals can avoid using "stigmatising terms" when talking to overweight patients.

Lesley Gray. Photo: supplied
Lesley Gray. Photo: supplied
"Healthcare professionals face a real dilemma around naming excess weight in patients," one of the study authors, Lesley Gray, said.

"Language has the ability to harm and must be applied with care, particularly in first encounters," Ms Gray, a senior lecturer at the University of Otago's Wellington campus, said.

"Nobody wants to be fat because there's so much bias and stigma around," she said.

The large study of 775 adults, published yesterday in the New Zealand Medical Journal, highlights the need "for care in inappropriate use of stigmatising terms in weight management".

The research found that using the terms "weight" or "high BMI (body mass index)" to describe excess fatness was rated less stigmatising and blaming than commonly used medical terms such as "fat" or "obese".

Researchers from Victoria University of Wellington and Otago's Wellington campus recruited participants from several areas throughout the country, including Dunedin.

About 330 healthcare professionals and health sciences students and 440 non-health adults completed questionnaires.

They were asked to rate the degree to which specified terms (fat, chubby, obese, high BMI, morbidly obese, bariatric, heavy, large, overweight and weight) were stigmatising, blaming and preferred terms.

Study first author Dr Caz Hales, of Victoria University, said "weight" was rated as the least stigmatising term, and 69% indicated it was "not at all" stigmatising.

By contrast, "morbidly obese" and "fat" were rated as the most stigmatising terms, and 42%and 30% of participants rated "morbidly obese" and "fat", respectively, as "very stigmatising".

The terms "morbidly obese", "fat", and "obese" were regarded as "very blaming" terms, she said.


There's obviously far too much money being pumped into the health sector if they're able to waste time and resources on stuff like this. If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then calling it a water-dwelling feathered creature doesn't change the fact that it's a duck.