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Doctors Should Avoid ‘Hurtful’ Labels When Dealing With Overweight Children

Doctors Should Avoid 'Hurtful' Labels When Dealing With Overweight ChildrenParents find the words “large” or “gaining too much weight” less offensive than “obese” or “overweight,” according to new research that says doctors should use the less offensive terms to establish a rapport with parents of overweight children.

“Health professionals probably shouldn’t use terms like fat, chubby, overweight or obese,” said Geoff Ball, Ph.D., a researcher in the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Alberta. “Terms that are more neutral, less judgmental and less stigmatizing should be used. Most of the time families will want that sensitive type of language. And that’s what clinicians should want, too, because that’s what families want.”

Ball, who worked with colleagues Amanda Newton and Carla Farnesi to review articles about the relationship between families and health professionals when it comes to addressing concerns about children’s weight, found the “delicate balance” was affected by a variety of factors, including parent’s preferences about language regarding obesity, how health professionals talked about weight, how the care was delivered, and parents’ expectations.

Some parents reported they felt blamed for their children’s weight issues, while others found health professionals “rude and judgmental” or inattentive.

Parents felt it was the role of doctors to begin the difficult conversation about their child’s weight, especially if there were health concerns. But health professionals reported they were “somewhat reluctant” to do this because they didn’t want to offend families and negatively affect the physician-patient relationship, especially when it came to raising concerns about weight during a medical appointment about an unrelated medical issue.

If parents feel ostracized by physicians, the families are less likely to follow doctor recommendations, the researchers concluded.

Ensuring physicians receive guidance on how to address sensitive topics like weight could be a good idea, noted the researchers. It would also be a good idea to get more feedback from parents and to encourage families to work with doctors as a team to find solutions for overweight children. Using more sensitive language about weight is also needed, the researchers added.

“If these changes are made it could lead to families being more apt to follow the doctor’s advice, families being more apt to return for follow-up appointments, better interactions between health-care professionals and families, and families being more satisfied with their care,” said Ball. “You want to have a positive rapport with families so they stay engaged.”

The researchers’ findings were published in the peer-reviewed journal Pediatric Obesity.

Source: University of Alberta


Overwieght child photo by shutterstock.

Doctors Should Avoid ‘Hurtful’ Labels When Dealing With Overweight Children

Janice Wood

Janice Wood is a long-time writer and editor who began working at a daily newspaper before graduating from college. She has worked at a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites, covering everything from aviation to finance to healthcare.

APA Reference
Wood, J. (2018). Doctors Should Avoid ‘Hurtful’ Labels When Dealing With Overweight Children. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 2, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 31 Jul 2012)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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