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Obesity and People with Higher Weight
Obesity is a chronic disease characterized by excess body fat and is a risk factor for many other diseases. Currently, the definition of obesity is based on body mass index (BMI), a measure of weight for height. Although higher BMI levels generally reflect higher levels of body fat on a population level, BMI does not directly measure body fat. Obesity should be referred to as a disease, not a condition.
Overweight is a defined medical condition according to body mass index, commonly known as BMI. It may be used as either a noun or an adjective in person-first language. For example, both people with overweight and people who are overweight are acceptable; overweight people is not acceptable. Outside of a scientific, clinical, or public health context, more neutral and inclusive terms can be used (see: higher weight individual, person with a larger body).
Person with obesity vs. obese
Use person with obesity, person affected by obesity, or person who has obesity instead of obese person or they are obese. Obesity should always be referred to as a disease, not as a condition. Outside of a scientific, clinical, or public health context, more neutral and inclusive terms can be used (see: higher weight individual, person with a larger body).
Higher weight individual, person with a larger body
When writing outside of a scientific, clinical, or public health context (or a press release reporting on a clinical study), use person with higher weight, higher-weight individual, person with a larger body, or other similar neutral descriptors, rather than person with obesity or overweight. These terms are less stigmatizing, more inclusive, and would be appropriate for general health content and internal communications (e.g., employee wellness programs).
In a scientific context, do not use higher body weight or similar general terms as synonyms for obesity and overweight.
There is a differentiation between writing public health content and a personal story – people choose to use many different terms to describe their own bodies. Ask for personal preference if body size is relevant to the story. For example, an individual may choose to reclaim the term fat as a neutral descriptor.
Weight, excess weight vs. weight problem, fat, morbidly obese
For public health content, use weight or higher weight rather than weight problem, fat, morbidly obese, or similarly pejorative descriptors. Note that higher weight and similar general terms should not be used as synonyms for overweight and obesity.
This page last reviewed on January 17, 2024