Use of person-centred language among scientific research focused on childhood obesity

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Background: Stigma towards children with obesity can begin as early as 3 years old, leading to increased risk for poorer mental health outcomes and lower quality of life. This includes discriminatory language used by peers and adults, which may be compounded by use within the medical community and in published research. 

Objectives: Our primary objective was to investigate adherence to person-centred language (PCL) in childhood obesity-related medical publications. 

Methods: We searched PubMed for childhood obesity-related articles from 2018 through 2020, from journals frequently publishing childhood-obesity-related research. Articles were randomized and searched for a list of predetermined, stigmatizing terms. 

Results: Of the sample of 300 articles, only 21.7% were adherent to PCL guidelines. The most frequent labels found were ‘obese’ appearing in 70.33% of articles and ‘overweight’ in 63.7%. Labels such as ‘chubby’, ‘large’, and ‘fat’ were less common, but still appeared in the medical literature. 

Conclusions: A majority of childhood obesity-related articles did not adhere to PCL guidelines. Given the negative effects of stigma among children with obesity, it is imperative to advocate for PCL use within the medical community. Increased stringency by journal editors and publishers may be the next step in this process.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere12879
JournalPediatric Obesity
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2022


  • childhood obesity
  • person-centred language
  • stigma
  • weight


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