Language of Obesity in New Zealand

When Caz and Lesley first met they were relieved to discover they both felt comfortable ‘naming’ fat and both appreciated many of their colleagues were uncomfortable around naming excess body tissue.

There has been much written around terminology used to describe someone who has an excessive accumulation of body fat and this is a a contentious issue resulting from the juxtaposed positions held by medicine/health and sociology as to whether excessive fat is a disease. The existing international research is divisive on the preferred terminology that should be used by health care professionals when engaging in conversations about body weight, shape and size.

Within New Zealand, health care professionals predominantly use the biomedical language of obesity. In recent years this language has become stigmatized and politicalized as health policy focuses on reducing the so called “burden of obesity” in society – which in itself is a stigmatizing term.

At BMI 2016 seminars across New Zealand we presented a questionnaire around language to attendees, we also had survey stands outside supermarkets, Wellington’s main Victoria University Campus, and in public areas of Wellington and Dunedin hospitals. 

With over 750 completed questionnaires we are currently analyzing the data, with input from University of Otago, Wellington biostatistician Gordon Purdie.

The results will be presented at BMI 2017 seminars.

Research team: Dr Caz Hales, Lesley Gray, Dr Carol MacDonald, and Gordon Purdie.

Funding: This research received a small Faculty of Humanities and Social Science grant from Victoria University Wellington, with staff time funded by Victoria University Wellington and University of Otago Wellington.


PHOTO: Lesley and Caz collecting data for the Language Study 2016 in the foyer of Wellington Regional Hospital, New Zealand