Obesity and Respectful Patient Interactions

Obesity is a disease which requires long-term behavioral change. Such change is only possible if the person effected by obesity is in the correct mindset. It is the health professionals’ job to make sure they are using language that encourages healthy habits. This is otherwise known to many as “change talk.”

“Change talk” is exactly what it sounds like. The purpose of “change talk” is to influence behavior through the power of language. Behavior can only be influenced after first listening to the patient’s goals and motivations.



Apart from speaking with respect, there is no “one size fits all” way to interact with patients. Rather the secret rests in listening to the patients’ needs and using that information to help them stick to their goals. Listening intently leads health care providers to have much more empathy. This causes more positive patient interactions and even more effective treatment plans. Empathy leads to the trust needed for patients to stick to their healthcare plans.



Empathy can only be built if the medical community is using sensitive language. Physicians should refrain from the words “obese” and “fat” and focus more on health-related metrics. Setting specific goals such as lowering blood sugar and blood pressure seem to be far more effective than focusing on weight alone. After all the purpose of the medical team is to encourage good health and has nothing to do with aesthetics.



In addition to language Physicians can demonstrate their empathy by providing arm-less bariatric chairs. Purchasing wider armless chairs sends a much more welcoming message to patients dealing with Obesity. It is also important that Physicians possess extra-large blood pressure cuffs and scales which go over 300 pounds. Many would argue that not offering these things is a form of discrimination and patience negligence.


The requests of using appropriate language and providing the right equipment seems small. Small enough to even ignore. However just know that doing so will further perpetuate the weight bias and stigma your patients have faced their entire lives. As medical professionals this is a form of negligence. Think about it, the American Medical Association came together and declared Obesity a disease in 2014. It’s time we start treating it like one!

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