My 5 year old son recently asked me why I was growing boobies under my arms (thanks, buddy) and I tried my best to laugh. That’s why Dr. Rebecca Puhl and colleagues’ recent article, Parental Perceptions of Weight Terminology That Providers Use With Youth, caught my eye. Parents use language that influences body image and this article is the first to research the topics. Doctors do, too, and we’re trained to use the word “obese” in medical-chart lingo (“Patient is a 54 year old obese female who presented with…”).
As a mom of twin 8 year old girls (and a set of younger boys), I’ve tried hard to avoid using the word SKINNY or FAT in my house. I embrace my “mommy tummy” and it’s wiggle, and try my best to talk positively about body image. My 5 year old son recently asked me why I was growing boobies under my arms (thanks, buddy) and I tried my best to laugh. I also try to do the same in my medical practice, empowering kids to be HEALTHY and work on physical exercise and a balanced HEALTHY diet. I have healthy, active children and focus on gearing their minds to understand the value of physical fitness and a balanced diet.
Dr. Puhl’s piece examined patient perceptions of weight-related language, especially related to childhood obesity. The team assessed parental perceptions of terminology related to weight used by health care providers to describe a child's excess weight. They assessed what the perceptions of parents were relative the terminology used, including stigma, blame, and motivation to reduce weight. 445 parents with children aged 2 to 18 years (N = 445) were surveyed to determine perceptions of the words “extremely obese,” “high BMI,” “weight problem,” “unhealthy weight,” “weight,” “heavy,” “obese,” “overweight,” “chubby,” and “fat”. Parents were asked to use a 5-point rating scale to indicate how much they perceived each term to be desirable, stigmatizing, blaming, or motivating to lose weight.
As one world expect, the terms “fat,” “obese,” and “extremely obese” were rated as the most undesirable, stigmatizing, blaming, and least motivating. As a doctor, and a mom, I take this to heart and wanted to spread the word: pediatricians’ efforts to create healthier youth may be undermined by using stigmatizing or offensive language. The same lesson applies to what parents say at home. Sticks and stones may break bones…words can be hurtful as well. Choosing the way to communicate may have a major impact on a child’s self esteem – in the doctor’s office and in the home.