As obesity rates continue to become worse and worse as the years go by with nearly 36% of Americans currently classified as “obese” (according to the Centers For Disease Control), a new issue has arisen for those in the medical world about how to be more politically correct in dealing with people who are carrying around more weight than they should. One of my readers works at a hospital in the United States where they will soon be offering gastric bypass surgery as an option for people who are struggling with their weight. As a result, they have created and require the attendance of everyone who will be working with obese patients to attend a “Bariatric Sensitivity Training” class. As you can imagine, the information being provided in these “informational meetings” is a bit unnerving to say the least.
My reader said she doesn’t have a problem with the idea of having such a class per se, but she notes that the implementation of it has some major flaws. She said the class “teaches that obesity is a disease and a disability” although the curriculum warns “that we better not treat the obese like they are disabled because most of them don’t feel like they are.” She went on to tell me that the training session gave a long list of “obesity-related healthy problems” that they need to be made aware of but “we should be careful not to let on to the patient what these things are because they are overweight.” This is where things become quite interesting.
She told me that they are no longer allowed to refer to overweight patients as “obese” and that instead they need to use the friendlier-sounding “people of size.” Instead of describing someone as “large” they now have to use “extended capacity.” My reader is concerned about the semantics game that is being played by the hospital she works for and that this is simply “modern healthcare failing the overweight and obese.” She says that her approach would be different because she believes patients choosing gastric bypass surgery already know they are obese and realize the negative implications to their health it is causing. That’s why she’s “a fan of telling it like it is” as the best way to reach people like this.
I’ve previously blogged about this idea of confronting the obese about their weight before and there are certainly tactful ways to do that. What it really comes down to is showing compassionate love towards the people you love (and it should come from a family member or a close friend and not a stranger) who have struggled with their weight because they’ve been given a lot of horrible advice about what to do about it over the years. Once you have gotten to the point of falling into the obesity category, your body will fight you tooth and nail to stay there. Trust me, I know this truth all too well. The good news is there is hope for those who are in this predicament right now, but transitioning to the terminology “people of size” may not necessarily be the right answer.
My Canadian journalist friend Brian Cormier addressed this issue a few years back in a column he wrote called “Those who are ‘fluffy’ don’t need reminding” where he hits on how society has so looked down upon the obese as nothing more than a bunch of fat, lazy slobs who can’t control themselves (a notion that Caveman Doctor thoroughly smacked down on his blog earlier this month). Brian noted that the common phrase “big guy” people used to describe him was especially insulting because it carries on this notion that someone is obese without saying that they are in so many words. There’s got to be a fine line of tact involved between what this “Bariatric Sensitivity Training” class is teaching about not offending obese patients at all and the opposite extreme concept of shaming people with potential humiliation into making weight loss happen. Is there a happy middle ground?
We’ve seen stories like this one about a Florida police chief getting fired in 2006 after sending out an e-mail to his police officers with some “straight talk” about dealing with their obesity. And don’t forget about the New Hampshire physician who got into trouble in 2005 for telling his patient she was obese. What’s interesting is how quickly the term “fat” was shifted to “obese” and now just a few years later there is an equal stigma attached to that replacement word. As someone who has been morbidly obese and needed a jolting experience to wake me up into doing something about it, I think straight talk is probably the best solution to help those who don’t care about eating healthy to start caring. Of course, for my reader I’m sure the whole litigation aspect of this comes into play if a sensitive patient decides to sue the hospital over discrimination or some such thing. That’s the tricky position they find themselves in which is no doubt why this class was created.
So what do you think about this idea of “Bariatric Sensitivity Training” to help people who work in a hospital know how to talk about obesity with obese patients without using the supposedly offensive language? If you believe there needs to be alternative language to the term “obese,” then what would you suggest that’s better than “people of size?” Or are you a fan of the tough love approach of being completely honest when speaking with someone about their weight? Share your thoughts in the comment section below and let’s talk about this very important issue.
6-26-12 UPDATE: Someone in the comments expressed doubt that this is actually real. Well, I heard back from the reader who wanted to share this flyer about the new bariatric policy change:
June 23rd, 2012 | Tags: bariatric, doctors, fat, health, healthy, hospital, medical, obese, obesity, people of size, sensitivity, straight talk, tough love, training | Category: 1