"Obesity," by some other name
If your doctor wants to address the excess weight you’re carrying, she’s being advised not to use loaded words such as “obesity” – even if it’s the proper medical term.
According to a new study of 390 obese patients, certain phrases can lead people to clam up and stop talking about the issue with their physician.
“Obesity” isn't neutral, lead author Sheri Volger, project manager at the Center for Weight and Eating Disorders at the University of Pennsylvania's Perelman School of Medicine told Postmedia News. “It's judgmental and it has negative attributes. … You're imposing blame on the person; the thought may be that this person is obese and that they're at fault for the situation.”
My first reaction to this was, “give me a frickin’ break.” Yes, I’m scarred from years of obesity and its attendant derision, but I’m also a wordie of 30 years' standing, and if a word is the word, then it’s the word, dammit. (I dunno: Does “frickin' ” undercut my claim as a wordie? Does "dammit"? Does “dunno”? Does “wordie”?)
But after a few beats, I had to concede the wisdom of not using a particular word, if it will stymie the reason for using it. For years I preferred being right to being happy, but that was not a winning strategy, and I would adapt that understanding to this. The point isn’t to be right about word choice, it is to approach wounded people in a way they will accept.
The quoted text above opens a recent post by Tralee Pierce, a Toronto Globe and Mail blogger. Later, it recounts a study in which fat people were asked what words they would most likely respond openly to:
“Fatness” was at the bottom of the list, followed by “excess fat,” “large size,” “obesity” and “heaviness.” A more desirable term was “weight” – perhaps because it seems less judgmental, according to the researchers.
To me, even “weight” is freighted (so to speak), because although weight and health are often related, sometimes they aren’t. (If you see the movie “America The Beautiful 2: The Thin Commandments,” keep an eye out for dancer Ragen Chastain, who blogs at Dances With Fat and with whom I very often disagree. But wow, she can dance!)
The point is, we don’t go to the doctor for a fashion evaluation: (Sample bedside manner: “Gee, you look fat!”) We go to the doctor for health evaluations. Yes, again, weight is often a health indicator, but from what I understand, doctors have lots of gizmos and stuff to measure health, and if an argument for weight reduction is to be made, it surely won’t have to be made on weight grounds alone.
Heck, they might not even need the o-word to make the case. Even if that’s the condition’s name.