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


Dive into the research topics of 'Person-Centered Language in Scholarly Writing May Mitigate Stigma Among Patients with Obesity'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this