Kiwis don't like being told they're morbidly obese - study

Kiwis really don't want their doctor calling them 'fat' or 'morbidly obese' new research has found, because they find it stigmatising.

Instead, they'd rather GPs use terms like 'weight' and 'high BMI'.

Researchers from Victoria University and the University of Otago surveyed nearly 800 Kiwis on their language preferences when it came to weight issues.

The specific phrases they were presented with were fat, chubby, obese, high BMI, morbidly obese, bariatric, heavy, large, overweight and weight. They were asked to rate these terms as being either 'stigmatising', 'blaming' or 'preferred'.

'Weight' was rated least stigmatising. At the other end of the scale, 'fat' and 'morbidly obese' were rated the most stigmatising. The results for the most 'blaming' terms were similar.

But Otago University senior lecturer Lesley Gray says they also had a surprise finding.

"The very terms that are seen to be most stigmatising and most blaming were the terms that statistically the participants showed as being the terms they thought they would use when trying to motivate people to lose weight."

In other words, while people really didn't like being called fat or obese, they were also the terms rated most likely to get them to do something about their weight - despite prior research showing stigmatising terms don't motivate people at all.

Gray said it wasn't surprising the most neutral terms were weight and high body mass index.

"I think they're probably safe terms. There are some limitations in healthcare settings around those terms, because they do not actually describe somebody's health situation."

Gray says health professionals should check what terms people prefer.

"The best thing to ask what a person's naming preferences are. But if you're not in a position to ask, then the more neutral terms would be 'weight' or 'high BMI'."

Ironically, the vast majority of people surveyed rated themselves as being of 'normal weight', despite two-thirds of Kiwi adults being overweight or obese.

The study was published Friday in the New Zealand Medical Journal.

From least stigmatising to most: weight, high BMI, bariatric, overweight, heavy, large, chubby, obese, fat, morbidly obese.