You’re being told to lose “weight” because you’re ‘overweight’. Does anyone ever stop and think what sort of “weight”? There’s a growing movement to get doctors and other public health professionals to stop using words such as “overweight” and “obese” as well. There are many who would agree that using the term “fat” to somebody’s face is neither helpful nor pleasant.
MPs in U.K. think the terms have a negative impact on body image & self-esteem, and want doctors to promote broader health and lifestyle messages instead.
The idea has been gaining momentum for a while. A study by the University of Pennsylvania in January found the word “obesity” offensive, while Liverpool City Council considered banning the word in its literature aimed at children in 2010.
And in March, draft guidance issued by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence said those who were obese should merely be encouraged to get down to a “healthier weight”.
But not everyone agrees. In 2010, the Public Health Minister for England, Anne Milton, said GPs should tell people they were fat rather than obese as it was more likely to motivate them into losing weight.
Does weight terminology need a rethink?
Dr Sarah Jarvis, a presenter on the BBC’s One Show, says when it comes to a medical context, the words “overweight” and “obese” are necessary, largely because they are the framework for the body mass index (BMI).
“The fact is BMI is the best indicator of likelihood of surviving to a later date – and if you get into the obese range, the chances are you are going to die from a condition related to obesity like heart disease. If you are overweight rather than obese, you are more likely to die early and have medical conditions,” she says.
Jarvis says although she would never use the word fat in her surgery, as it has “childhood playground associations”, she thinks talk of banning overweight is “political correctness gone mad”.
“The facts are when I started training in 1993, 10% of the UK was obese and now 25% are. We are absolutely not moving the goalposts – we are getting fatter,” she says.
Nigel Mercer, the president of the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons, agrees that when it comes to someone who is seriously overweight, and it is a medical issue, “there is no pussyfooting around the issue”.
Mercer says for adults, part of the problem is people no longer filter what they say, and society should really keep more of its opinions to itself.
“I am a big bloke, and I would have no problem if a professional told me I was obese, but it would be entirely different if someone told me that in the street,” he says.