Talking about obesity with clients: preferred terms and communication styles of UK pre-registration dieticians, doctors and nurses

Swift, Judy A. and Choi, Edith and Puhl, Rebecca M. and Glazebrook, Cris (2013) Talking about obesity with clients: preferred terms and communication styles of UK pre-registration dieticians, doctors and nurses. Patient Education and Counseling, 91 (2). pp. 186-191. ISSN 0738-3991

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To describe trainee healthcare professionals’ preferred terms when talking about obesity, their beliefs about initiating discussions about weight, and their confidence about consulting with obese people.


A self-completed questionnaire collected data on demographics, preferred terms, beliefs about initiation of discussions, confidence and training needs from 1036 pre-registration dieticians, nurses and doctors.


Participants’ preferred terms when raising the issue of obesity with clients were BMI (mean=.96), weight (mean=.71) and unhealthy BMI (mean=.43). When defining a client's bodyweight, students endorsed the euphemism ‘your weight may be damaging your health’ (67.6%). A proactive, collaborative communication style was preferred by 34.9% of participants. 58.2% of participants felt confident about discussing obesity with clients and 95.1% felt that that more training would be useful.


It is reassuring that UK trainee healthcare professionals avoid value-laden terms and broadly endorse words preferred by people with obesity. It is, however, concerning that the majority of participants did not favor a proactive, collaborative communication style.

Practice implications

Educators of tomorrow's healthcare professionals could take advantage of students’ desire for more training on how to effectively talk to clients with obesity about their weight. Such training would, however, require the development of clear guidelines on terminology and communication styles.

Item Type: Article
Keywords: Obesity, Medical terminology, Communication, Stigma
Schools/Departments: University of Nottingham, UK > Faculty of Science > School of Biosciences
University of Nottingham, UK > Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences > School of Medicine > Division of Psychiatry and Applied Psychology
Identification Number: 10.1016/j.pec.2012.12.008
Depositing User: Wahid, Ms. Haleema
Date Deposited: 17 Apr 2014 10:38
Last Modified: 15 Oct 2017 22:51

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