Person-Centered Language in Scholarly Writing May Mitigate Stigma Among Patients with Obesity

Andriana Pena, Zachary Griffin, Piper Long, Trevor Torgerson, Austin Johnson, Ryan Ottwell, Samuel M. Jacobsen, Micah Hartwell

Research output: Contribution to conferencePosterpeer-review


Background: Language has the ability to influence societal perceptions of medical conditions. The movement to employ person-centered language (PCL) in healthcare 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 – December 2006, January 2008 – December 2010, January 2015 – December 2018, and January 2019 – May 2020 respectively. All journals with 20 or more obesity-related, PubMed indexed items with human subjects available in English were included, resulting in 2627 from 17 journals. A random sample of 1971 publications were screened and examined for prespecified, non-PCL terminology.

Results: After excluding editorials and commentaries, 991 were retained. We found 238 (24.02 %) publications adhered to PCL. It was also found that PCL adherence increased over time within cohorts 2- 4, with cohort 2 being 1.75 times more likely and cohort 4 being 2.27 times more likely to adhere. Among the articles with non-PCL, “obese” was the most common label, occurring in 748 (75.48 %) articles, and “suffers from” was included in 158 (15.94 %). We found similar proportions of PCL adherence among obesity-specific journals, general medicine articles, and nutrition journals.

Conclusion: Our investigation showed that PCL in reference to obesity is evident in weight-focused journals with PCL guidelines. However, many major medical journals lack specific PCL guidelines and continue to permit the use of non-PCL. Continued use of non-PCL in reference to obesity could inadvertently perpetuate weight-based stigma and health disparities in future generations.
Original languageAmerican English
StatePublished - 22 Feb 2021
EventOklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences Research Days 2021: Poster presentation - Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences Campus, Tulsa, United States
Duration: 22 Feb 202126 Feb 2021


ConferenceOklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences Research Days 2021
Country/TerritoryUnited States


  • Obesity
  • Stigma
  • Person-centered language
  • Patient care


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