"Hey, Fatso" and Political Correctness
I saw in my Columbus Dispatch this morning that doctors are vexed as to how to break it to those that are obese that they are obese. It seems that the government, at least the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (the famous "CDC)," prefer "at risk of being overweight" for fat kids and "overweight" for obese kids. Their concern is that there is a stigma attached to the term "obese." Yo, CDC, there is a stigma attached to looking either fat or obese. I gather that the CDC sees using well-understood terms like "obese" and "morbidly obese" is piling on. There are doctors who are concerned that pussy-footing around the issue by using euphemisms is not medically helpful but are concerned with pissing off the kids and their parents.
Doctors are right to worry about what they say to obese and morbidly obese people. A cousin of mine who is a cardiovascular surgeon who dabbles with veins in other parts of the body once told a patient who was so obese she had to sleep in a chair the truth and this person threatened to sue. I don't think anything came of it but pissing patients off by telling them the truth about their weight issues is something to be concerned about.
Back when I did my research on advertising I ran across a study showing that the more negative the advertising was against cigarette smoking, the less effective it was. I believe this research has real merit for highly negative advertising can evoke people's defenses -- "Hey, I just like the taste of cigarettes" or Hey,I like myself just the way I am (i. e., fat)." The same would be true, I think, of using language with highly negative connotations in describing or characterizing a patient to the patient or his or her parent. I am not fond of political correctness but I am also not fond of overly direct, highly negative, insulting ways of referring to people.
What's the solution to this? I actually have one, learned from years of bing overweight to one degree or another for much if not most of my adult life. Here is what I would suggest doctors say to kids and adults about being overweight. I would not even say that they are overweight. I would say this (the numbers are made up by me and are for illustrative purposes only):
In your present condition at your your age, you haveI do not have heart disease or diabetes but I do have somewhat occluded carotid arteries. I do have all the other conditions or am being treated prophylactically (no glaucoma but have been treated for it prphylactically for probably 25-30 years). I would also say, "Here is a list of the names of these diseases. I want you to go home and search the internet for them at verybadthings.com and come back to me in one week for a discussion of how we can work together to avoid these things."
an 28% chance of contracting sleep apnea
a 35% chance of contracting acid reflux
an 8$ chance of contracting glaucoma
a 65% chance of contracting high blood pressure
a 35% chance of having obstructed blood vessels in your body in some artery
a 32% chance of heart disease
a 40% chance of contracting Type II diabetes
a 6% chance of having spinal issues that could affect your ability to walk with ease
etc. Of course, should this condition persist, the odds will increase that you will contract these diseases, some of which seem to come in clusters.
If the person doesn't immediately ask, "Why might I get these things?" don't worry. They already know. If they don't come back then they aren't ready to be helped.