Should we rename ‘obesity’?

Public perception of disease is everything. “Diabetics” are now referred to as “people living with diabetes”; an “obese person” is now an “individual living with obesity.”

But what is the definition of obesity? Does it refer to a disease or a risk factor? And is the term so tainted in negativity, blame, and bias that the only solution is to scrap it and completely rename it? Or perhaps it is more about finding the least-worst option rather than pursuing the impossibility of a solution that suits all?

This is precisely the challenge faced by a Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology Commission on the Definition and Diagnosis of Clinical Obesity, which is due to publish its initial findings this coming autumn.

“Renaming ‘obesity’ is very important,” states Francesco Rubino, MD, chair of metabolic and bariatric surgery at King’s College, London, who is leading the project: “The word is so stigmatized, with so much misunderstanding and misperception, some might say the only solution is to change the name.”

The Lancet Commission’s approach is to call it ‘clinical obesity’. “‘Obesity’ itself doesn’t necessarily convey the message that you have a disease or an illness,” Rubino observes. “It is similar to the difference in meaning between depression and clinical depression, which communicate two different things.”

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