A Moment of Science

Calling Obesity What It Is

A report released by a committee of medical experts recommends health institutions and doctors should use the term obese. Learn more on this Moment of Science.

Boy's obesity illustration

Photo: Combined Media (flickr)

Some medical experts are telling health institutions to start using the word "obese" to describe a child's condition instead of just "heavy" or "overweight"

What if you were a pediatrician and you were examining a rather obese child. Would you call the child obese to him and his parents’ face or would you use gentler terms, like overweight or heavy?

It would seem kind of mean to just put that out there, because there is such a stigma associated with the term obese. However, a report released by a committee of medical experts recommends health institutions and doctors should use the term obese.

First, there’s the notion that avoiding the word obese seems to let doctors and patients off the hook. Obesity is a scientific term used to describe a specific medical condition, and should be used when appropriate. This does not mean that doctors should use the term in every case, but calling someone overweight or at risk for being obese doesn’t get at the seriousness of the problem for patients that really are obese.

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