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NewsBLOG | Creating a better obesity landscape: Breaking down language

Creating a better obesity landscape: Breaking down language


Author: Kevin Scott, World Obesity Federation


The impact language has on society is incredibly underrated.

A simple turn of phrase can be the difference in how a book or film is received, it can even be the turning point of an election. This is something that we readily accept for most things, but struggle to comprehend when it comes to people.

The words we use to talk about and describe people & individuals help shape attitudes towards them. These attitudes are often passed from one generation to the next.  Influencing the decisions we make and way we act. This creates and perpetuates stereotypes, which we unconsciously adopt as normal and can have a huge impact on the formation of policies, laws and general perception.

When you look at how obesity is talked about in the media and society as a whole, this is extremely evident. People are referred to as being 'obese', which straight away dehumanises them and labels them with their disability or disease.  This creates negative connotations towards the individual and a sense of worthlessness in the person themselves.

A way of moving past stereotyping and mass generalisation is changing the way we communicate.  An initiative that has been embraced by many organisations and individuals is People-First language.  This emphasises the individual, not the disability / disease. So by placing the person first, the disability / disease is no longer the primary, defining characteristic of an individual.

Currently you will see headlines and sentences like these in the media: 

  • Hospitals fail to invest in equipment to scan obese people
     
  • Autism Risk Is Higher When Mom Is Obese and Has Diabetes During Pregnancy
     
  • Latest figures show the need to take urgent action, with three and a half million children obese - one in five 10 and 11-year-olds and one in 10 four and five-year-olds.
     
  • Eating breakfast could help obese people get more active

If writing with People-First Language in mind, the above would become: 

  • Hospitals fail to invest in equipment to scan people with obesity
     
  • Autism risk is higher when mom suffers from obesity and has diabetes during pregnancy
     
  • Latest figures show the need to take urgent action, with three and a half million children affected by obesity - one in five 10 and 11-year-olds and one in 10 four and five-year-olds
     
  • Eating breakfast could help people affected by obesity get more active

The Obesity Action Coalition (OAC) are committed to eradicating weight bias and stigma from the way society communicates. Along with other obesity-focused organizations, OAC are helping to raise awareness of People-First language. They have created a brief document explaining People-First language, click here to view, and they have also put out a 'Call-to-action' asking organizations to sign-on to the People-First initiative and enforce this style of writing within their organization. 

World Obesity sees this as an important move forward in helping to fight the obesity epidemic and has signed OAC’s 'People-First initiative'.

World Obesity is also committed to moving towards using 'People-First Language' in all of its communications, websites and submission process for abstracts.

 

Helpful People-First Language documents 

People-First Language for obesity

Weight Bias in Healthcare

Disclaimer: Blogs published on our site represent the opinions of their authors and not necessairly those of the World Obesity Federation. The World Obesity Federation is not responsible for the content of the sites referred to in these blogs. World Obesity does not endorse any products or programs and cannot verify information on external websites.