June 13, 2017—The American Medical Association (AMA) House of Delegates today approved a resolution authored by the Obesity Medicine Association (OMA) that seeks to de-stigmatize obesity and improve obesity treatment by educating physicians to engage in a non-biased dialogue.
The resolution encourages physicians and health care providers to use person-first language in all discussions, resolutions and reports with regards to obesity. Person-first language places the person before the disability or disease when describing individuals affected by obesity.
By approving the resolution, the AMA commits to educating its members on the importance of person-first language for treating patients with obesity; equipping their health care facilities with appropriate furniture, medical equipment and gowns for patients with obesity; and having patients weighed respectfully and without judgement.
The AMA resolution augments previous efforts the OMA has undertaken to affect how various audiences communicate about patients coping with obesity. OMA partnered with several other organizations to publish the "Guidelines for Media Portrayals of Individuals Affected by Obesity” to ensure that all persons, regardless of their body weight, are represented equitably and accurately in journalistic reporting. Additionally, OMA played a major role in the AMA’s decision to recognize obesity as a disease in 2013.
This resolution was written and introduced by Dr. Ethan Lazarus, OMA’s representative in the AMA House Delegates and an obesity medicine physician from Denver, Colo.
“The first step towards improving obesity care in America starts with treating patients affected by obesity with dignity and respect,” he said. Lazarus invited several other organizations to cosponsor the resolution, including the Colorado Medical Society, the Minority Affairs Section, the Endocrine Society, the American Academy of Clinical Endocrinologists and the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery.
Unfortunately, despite medical evidence to the contrary, the prevailing view is still that obesity is caused solely by poor eating and sedentary behavior, Lazarus said.
“Patients with obesity are still referred to as ‘obese’ and shamed for their condition,” Lazarus said. He testified about a patient he treated recently who told him her primary care doctor told her she was morbidly obese. She never returned to that doctor because he reinforced her own perception that she was fat, rather than a successful woman, mother and wife who was coping with a disease.
Similarly, telling a person they are “morbidly obese” and that they should simply “eat less and exercise more” is not only of no help, but is psychologically damaging, reinforcing the notion they already believe, which is that their obesity is their own fault, he said.
“Using person-first language is a critical step for us to move the ball forward and begin to treat obesity like a serious disease with serious health consequences, and to stop blaming patients for their health problems,” he said.
Lazarus emphasized that the resolution does not get rid of the term “obesity.”
“It does not change diagnosis codes or billing codes nor does it change your medical charts. It simply asks us to use the term it in a sensitive way at the AMA, and remember that we are treating people, not diseases,” he said.
The AMA House of Delegates convenes annually in Chicago at the AMA Annual Meeting to elect officers and address policy and business matters.