Objective: Language can influence societal perceptions of medical conditions. The employment of person-centered language (PCL) in health care is reflected in many scientific publications; however, the extent of this adaptation in reference to obesity is unknown.
Methods: This cross-sectional analysis included a systematic search of PubMed obesity-related articles across four cohorts spanning January 2004 through December 2006; January 2008 through December 2010; January 2015 through December 2018; and January 2019 through May 2020, respectively. Approximately 1971 publications were screened and examined for prespecified, non-PCL terminology set forth by the American Medical Association Manual of Style and the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors, of which 991 were retained. Statistical analysis demonstrating PCL and non-PCL findings was then performed. Incidence rates and cohort classifications were reported.
Results: Of the 991 articles examined, it was found that 24.02% of publications adhered to PCL. Similar adherence was observed across obesity-specific, general medicine, and nutrition journals. PCL adherence increased over time. The most common non-PCL label was “obese,” occurring in 75.48% of articles.
Conclusions: This investigation showed that non-PCL in reference to obesity is widely evident in weight-focused journals despite recommendations for adherence to PCL guidelines. Continued use of non-PCL in reference to obesity in research may inadvertently perpetuate weight-based stigma and health disparities in future generations.