Language Matters: Guidelines for Talking about Obesity
People-first language approach for reducing weight stigma

In 2023, major cardiology conferences such as ESC and ACC showcased late-breaking trials on the medical management of obesity, further signifying an exciting new era of cardiometabolic medicine.

With an emphasis on obesity, there is an urgent need to reframe the narratives and change the language used around obesity. The Obesity Medical Association, along with other organisations, are supporting a people-first language approach. Here, we summarise some of the key recommendations from the World Obesity Federation's Language Guidelines (1).


  • People First Language: Use language that places the individual before the medical condition, e.g., "a person with obesity" instead of "an obese person."
  • Neutral Phrases: Employ neutral phrases like "individuals with higher weight/BMI" or "people living with obesity."
  • Use Accurate Language: Avoid dramatic or stigmatizing words like "curse" or "strain" and use accurate facts and figures to describe the issue.
  • Plain Language: When discussing the medical aspects of obesity, use plain language to aid public understanding without resorting to medical jargon.
  • Acknowledge Complexity: Recognize that obesity has multiple causes, including genetic, psychological, sociocultural, economic and environmental factors. Avoid oversimplifying the issue.


  • Negative Labels: Steer clear of derogatory labels like "fat" or "chubby."
  • Medical Jargon: Avoid using medical jargon in non-medical contexts when discussing obesity.
  • Oversimplification: Refrain from oversimplifying the causes and solutions of obesity, as it can lead to weight stigma and weaken policy action.
  • Blame Language: Avoid language that implies individual blame for obesity.


In an interview on Obesity Management Strategies in 2023, Dr Harold Bays, President of the Obesity Medicine Association, emphasized the need for enhanced physician education concerning the evaluation and treatment of obesity (2). Although experts acknowledge the significance of this issue, medical training often lacks a comprehensive approach to address it.

Dr Bays believes that one of the unmet needs is to provide practical guidance on how cardiologists can effectively approach patients with obesity. As we enter a new era of obesity management, these recommendations, advocating for a people-first language approach, aim to reduce weight stigma and create a safe environment for people living with obesity.



  1. The do’s and don’ts when talking about obesity. World Obesity Federation:
  2. Interview: Harold Bays: Obesity Management Strategies in 2023. Radcliffe Cardiology 2023.