Parents prefer that doctors avoid the terms "fat" and "obese" and prefer the term "unhealthy weight," when referring to their children, a new study finds.

Researchers surveyed 445 American parents of children aged two to 18 to learn about perceptions of 10 common terms used to describe excess body weight in youth. 


More than 60 per cent of parents said referring to a child as "extremely fat" or "obese" would be considered most stigmatizing, says study author Rebecca Puhl. (Yale University)

"Our findings indicate that the terms "fat," "extremely obese," and "obese" are perceived by many parents to be the most stigmatizing and blaming terms, and the least motivating terms to encourage weight loss," the study's authors concluded in Monday's online issue of the journal Pediatrics.

"These findings challenge recommendations made by the British public health minister who encouraged health care providers to call their patients 'fat' to instill sufficient motivation to lose weight. Instead, most parents in this study reported that the terms 'unhealthy weight,' 'weight problem,' or 'overweight' to be most motivating for weight loss.""

More than 60 per cent of parents said referring to a child as "extremely fat" or "obese" would be considered the most stigmatizing, study author Rebecca Puhl, director of research and weight stigma initiatives at the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at Yale University and her co-authors said.

About 36 per cent of parents said they would put their child on a strict diet in response to weight stigma from a doctor, a finding the researchers called a cause for concern since research suggests that severely restricting calories and strict dieting can backfire for achieving long-term, significant weight loss.


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Based on the findings, Puhl suggested that health care providers not making assumptions about what weight-based terms to use with parents but to actually ask them about their preferences.

The study's authors noted drawbacks of the study, such as the use of hypothetical rather than real life scenarios, use of self-reported data on weight and height, and lack of an ethnically diverse sample of participants.