ASK PEOPLE FIRST About People First Language

Organizations working to protect the rights of people of large body size object to the “people first language” being promoted by organizations representing bariatric surgeons and pharmaceutical company interests.
FOSTER CITY, Calif. - June 14, 2015 - PRLog -- The National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance (NAAFA), the Association for Size Diversity and Health (ASDAH), the Big Gay Mens Organization (BGMO), the It Gets Fatter Project (IGF) and the International Size Acceptance Association (ISAA) object to the “re-naming” of fat people without our input.

The organizations representing bariatric surgeons and pharmaceutical company interests are urging the medical community and medical journals to use the phrase, “persons with obesity” to describe higher-weight people. They claim this “people first language” is more respectful than previous language and will help eliminate weight bias.  How can this be an act of respect when they have failed to consult the community of higher-weight people or the grassroots organizations that represent us?

First, the term “obesity” is used in medical contexts to refer to anyone with a BMI of 30 or above, and despite opposition from the American Medical Association’s own scientific committee, the AMA declared this body size a “disease.”  There has never been a research study showing that higher-weight people prefer the terms “obese” or “obesity” to describe our bodies; in fact, research shows the opposite.  [Motivating or stigmatizing? Public perceptions of weight-related language used by health providers, R Puhl, JL Peterson and J Luedicke, 2012]

Second, “person-first language” for a trait like body size is a clear violation of everyday language usage – we do not say, “person with tallness” or “person with thinness.”  The phrase “person with obesity” is clearly calculated to support the idea that a person in a higher weight body is diseased by definition and that any health struggles we may have are not originating from the way we are treated but rather from within our “diseased” bodies.   This tactic from the medical industrial complex medicalizes fatness in order to declare “obesity” a chronic disease that requires treatment and, thereby, reimbursement from insurance companies, legitimating the iatrogenic “treatments” for weight cycling that make higher weight people sicker in the long run.

Designating entire demographic groups as “diseased” intensifies the stigma against them with racialized fat people facing the brunt of the stigma that will result from this change. Many oppressed groups have been seen first as sinful, then as sick, and it is only with great effort and social progress that they are finally recognized as intrinsically whole, worthy, and not somehow less than the dominant group. We are witnessing a cultural moment when the dominant group is arguing over whether fat people are sinful or sick [A national survey of public views about the classification of obesity as a disease, R Puhl and S Lui, 2015], as if those are the only possibilities.  We could save a lot of time and suffering by just advancing to the next step now!

The “obesity” label wastes public, private, and personal resources by using body size as a proxy for health, which labels over half the healthy individuals as ill and overlooks a quarter of the thin people who are struggling with illness. [The Obese Without Cardiometabolic Risk Factor Clustering and the Normal Weight With Cardiometabolic Risk Factor Clustering, RP Wildman, et al, 2008] Then, to add insult to injury, higher-weight people are blamed for the loss of those resources.

NAAFA, ASDAH, BGMO, IGF and ISAA call out the “person-first language” tactics of the medical industrial complex. ASK PEOPLE FIRST about people first language.  All people should be treated with the dignity and respect of self-determination.


Founded in 1969, NAAFA is a non-profit human rights organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for fat people. NAAFA works to eliminate discrimination based on body size and provide fat people with the tools for self-empowerment through public education, advocacy, and member support.On the web:

ASDAH is an international professional organization founded in 2003. We are an all-volunteer not-for-profit organization, whose members and leaders are committed to the Health At Every Size® (HAES®) principles. On the web:

BGMO is an international organization for big men, bears and their admirers. BBMO focuses on acceptance of both being gay and being a person of size. Since its inception almost 30 years ago, BGMO has fought all the stereotypes surrounding these issues.  On the web:

IGF is a body positivity project started by fat queer people of colour, for fat people of colour! On the web:

The mission of the ISAA is to promote size acceptance and fight size discrimination through the world by means of advocacy and visible, lawful action. ISAA strives to defend the human rights of members affected by size discrimination and bigotry. On the web:

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Tags:Obesity, People First Language, Size Discrimination, Weight Bias, Disease
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