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What should overweight people be called?

Public Health Minister for England, Anne Milton, told the BBC this week that doctors and healthcare professionals should tell people they are 'fat' rather than 'obese' as the term 'fat', in her view, may better motivate them to lose weight. She added that people should take 'personal responsibility' for their way of life.

Greater 'personal responsibility'

Reiterating that she was speaking from a personal viewpoint, Ms Milton said: "If I look in the mirror and think I am obese I think I am less worried [than] if I think I am fat." She added that many NHS healthcare professionals had concerns about using the term 'fat' but stressed it could help encourage greater 'personal responsibility' in people with weight problems.

Danger of stigmatising people

Whilst her views received support from some medical bodies, others, such as Professor Lindsey Davies, President of the UK Faculty of Public Health, have spoken out about the dangers of the word 'fat' and how it could stigmatise people who are overweight.

Tracy Kelly, Care Manager at Diabetes UK, echoed these concerns: "'Obese' is an internationally recognised classification of weight whereas 'fat' is a layperson term and can mean anything from a little overweight to extremely overweight.

Derogatory implications

"The word 'fat' is also often used in a derogatory manner and, for a clinician, saying someone is 'fat' can be difficult.

"It is important for NHS staff to give messages that mean something and facilitate a positive change for that individual. It’s probably best for them to use a term such as 'unhealthy weight' when talking to the person, whilst stressing at the same time how an overweight person is at serious increased risk of conditions and diseases that, put simply, can shorten their life expectancy – namely Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and cancer."

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