'Obese' and 'obesity' now too offensive for doctors to use


DOCTORS have been told not to use the words "obese" or "obesity" with overweight patients in case they get offended.

The move is part of new unprecedented guidelines that instruct doctors to discuss "weight status" with patients in a "positive, sensitive and non-judgemental manner".

But the NSW Health policy has been criticised by the Australian Medical Association, which said "sugar-coating" the issue wasn't going to help win the battle of the bulge.

The link between obesity and cancer tends to convince people to take a harder line on healthy eating.

The new policy also advises doctors to "avoid any suggestion of blame or disapproval" when discussing weight with patients. "Malnourished", "morbidly obese" and "skinny" are also on the list of words to be avoided because they are "potentially offensive or stigmatising".

Instead, doctors have been told to use terms "shown to be acceptable to patients and carers" like "well above a healthy weight" instead of obese.

NSW Health's Executive Director Centre for Population Health Jo Mitchell said the new policy is for doctors dealing with overweight adults and children. The first-of-its-kind policy was based on advice from clinicians and parents.

Ms Mitchell said weight was a "very personal and sensitive issue" and the word obesity can be "stigmatising", especially for children.

Rising levels of obesity threaten our collective wellbeing. Picture: File image
Rising levels of obesity threaten our collective wellbeing. Picture: File image

"We know that when we raise it in this positive way that there's a better impact," she said. "So not at all downplaying the seriousness of (weight problems) it's just using language which is more engaging."

She said doctors should only be using terms like "above a health weight range" - meaning "fat" was also banned.

"There is no recipe to talk to patients, it's very much a communication between patients and doctor, and doctors are the best people to judge how to frame those discussions," he said. "Sometimes it is important not to sugar-coat this. People sometimes need to be made really aware of the dangers they are facing."

He said doctors should not always shy away from saying "obese". "The word obese is a medical term. If it's used in the right context why would we not use it - if not to shock then at least confront them with reality of their situation."

Dr Frankum said there were situations where even parents of extremely overweight children needed to be told if their child was obese.