Adolescent preferences and reactions to language about body weight

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Over 30% of youth and adolescents have overweight or obesity, and health care providers are increasingly discussing weight-based health with these patients. Stigmatizing language in provider-patient communication about obesity is well documented and could be particularly detrimental to youth and adolescents. Although some research has examined preferences for weight-based terminology among adults, no studies have addressed these issues in youth populations. This study represents a preliminary and systematic investigation of weight-based language preferences among adolescents with overweight and obesity enrolled in a summer weight loss camp. Participants (N = 50) indicated preferences for weight-based language and emotional responses to words that their family members used in reference to their body weight. Weight neutral terminology (‘weight', ‘body mass index') were most preferred, although some differences in word preferences emerged by the participants' gender. Boys preferred having their weight described as ‘overweight' and ‘heavy', while girls preferred the word ‘curvy'. A large proportion of participants, particularly girls, reported experiencing sadness, shame, and embarrassment if parents used certain words to describe their body weight, which highlights the importance of considering the emotional impact of weight-based terminology. Providers may consider asking youth and adolescents for their preferences when discussing weight-based health.

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