If you've been avoiding making an appointment for your annual physical because you're self-conscious about the fact that you've packed on some extra pounds since your last visit, you're not alone. Yet you may be putting your health at risk simply because you don't want to be chastised by your doctor. According to a study by the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at Yale, published online in the International Journal of Obesity, high percentages of normal-weight, overweight, and obese participants said that they would feel badly about themselves, embarrassed, and upset if stigmatized about their weight by a doctor.
In a press release from the university, staff writer Megan Orciari reported that thelanguage health care providers use when discussing their patients’ body weight can reinforce stigma, reduce motivation for weight loss, and potentially lead to avoidance of future medical appointments. Orciari says that the researchers found that patients prefer that doctors use neutral language such as “unhealthy weight” rather than words that may be perceived as stigmatizing and blaming, such as “fat” or “morbidly obese.” The Yale team conducted a national survey of American adults, asking their opinions about 10 common terms used to describe excess body weight: “weight,” “unhealthy weight,” “weight problem,” “overweight,” “high BMI,” “heavy,” “chubby,” “obese,” “fat,” and “morbidly obese.”
The words “weight” and “unhealthy weight” were rated as the most preferable terminology for doctors to use when discussing excess weight, and “morbidly obese,” “fat” and “obese” were rated as the most stigmatizing and blaming. Also, 21% of the patients surveyed said they would switch to a different doctor if they felt their physician had shamed them about their weight.
Actually, that's not a bad idea. Rather than postpone getting the care you need while you're grappling with keeping your weight down, why not look for a healthcare provider you will be supportive and motivating rather than critical? Be proactive and explain that you are fully aware that you need to lose some weight and that you would appreciate help in that regard rather than simply a scolding.
As lead author Rebecca Puhl, director of research at the Yale Rudd Center, put it: “Although health providers face significant challenges in efforts to prevent and treat obesity, their efforts must begin with a non-stigmatizing conversation with patients about weight and health.” Well said!