"Obese people" vs "Fat people": Impact of group label on weight bias

School of Psychology, The University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW 2052, Australia.
Eating and weight disorders: EWD (Impact Factor: 0.79). 09/2010; 15(3):e195-8.
Source: PubMed


The present study examined whether the terms "obese people" vs "fat people" impact evaluations of a target group.
Participants answered a number of questions about obese people (N=300) or fat people (N=125), including how favorable their attitudes are toward the target group, how disgusted they are with the target group, and how similar they are to the target group.
Compared to fat people, obese people were rated as less favorable and as more disgusting. In addition, participants saw themselves as being less similar to obese people than to fat people, and as less likely to become an obese person than a fat person.
Overall, the term "obese people" evokes stronger negative evaluations than the term "fat people." Researchers investigating weight bias should be aware that the specific terms used to refer to overweight and obese people can impact study outcomes and interpretations.

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    • "Identifying the preferred language or terminology for health professionals when discussing weight has been the focus of a number recent studies (Thomas et al. 2008; Dutton et al. 2010; Vartanian 2010; Gray et al. 2011; Volger et al. 2011); these authors all recognise the sensitive and emotive nature of the subject, and the importance of developing, what Dutton et al. (2010) refer to as a 'shared terminology', to enhance rapport between patient and health professional. These studies were consistent in finding 'obesity' as the least favoured term, with 'weight' being the generally preferred terminology (Thomas et al. 2008; Dutton et al. 2010; Vartanian 2010; Gray et al. 2011; Volger et al. 2011). The current analysis identified at least three techniques employed, intentionally or otherwise, by health professionals, when talking with women about their weight; avoidance of the topic, framing discussions within a medicalised model by referring to BMI, and labelling women as 'high risk'. "
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    ABSTRACT: Background: Research demonstrates that health providers express negative attitudes toward overweight and obese patients that can be conveyed through weight-related language, yet little is known about people's perceptions of weight-related language used by providers. The current study examined public preferences and perceptions of weight-based terminology used by health-care providers to describe excess weight. Method: A national sample of American adults (N=1064) completed an online survey to assess perceptions and preferences associated with 10 common terms to describe body weight. Participants rated how much they perceived each term to be desirable, stigmatizing, blaming or motivating to lose weight (using five-point Likert scales), and how they would react if stigmatized by their doctor's reference to their weight. Results: The terms 'weight' (3.43, 95% confidence interval (CI) 3.35-3.50) and 'unhealthy weight' (3.24, 95% CI 3.15-3.33) were rated most desirable, and the terms 'unhealthy weight' (3.77, 95% CI 3.69-3.84) and 'overweight' (3.51, 95% CI 3.43-3.58) were rated most motivating to lose weight. The terms 'morbidly obese', 'fat' and 'obese' were rated as the most undesirable (95% CI 1.61-2.06), stigmatizing (95% CI 3.66-4.05) and blaming (95% CI 3.62-3.94) language used by health providers. Notably, participant ratings were consistent across socio-demographic variables and body weight categories. A total of 19% of participants reported they would avoid future medical appointments and 21% would seek a new doctor if they felt stigmatized about their weight from their doctor. Conclusion: This study advances our understanding of why individuals prefer particular weight-related terms, and how patients may react if their provider uses stigmatizing language to refer to their weight. It also offers suggestions for practical strategies that providers can use to improve discussions about weight-related health with patients.
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