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Thursday, January 3, 2008

To Have is Not to Be

Would you refer to someone with atherosclerosis as an "atherosclerotic"?

Would you refer to someone with renal failure as an "uremic"?

Would you call someone with osteoarthritis an "arthritic"?

I know that it is common to speak of diabetics, hypertensives, psychotics, etc. but it is not polite. In fact many journals emphatically forbid the use of these terms - the proper language would be diabetic, hypertensive, or psychotic patient, but even that may not be polite enough.

This issue is particularly relevant when speaking of obesity. There is a subtle but important difference between someone "being" obese or "having" obesity - Mr. Jones "is" obese vs. Mr. Jones "has" obesity.

Why is this important? When we use terms which have negative connotations like "obesity" it is important that we do not define our patients based on this condition - obesity is not a character trait - it does not define who our patient is - it is something our patient has and is seeking our help to get rid of.

Mr. Jones "is" Mr. Jones irrespective of whether he has obesity or has lost the excess weight.

I suggest that we do not speak of obese patients - let us show our compassion by speaking of patients who have obesity (as they may have atherosclerosis, uremia, osteoarthritis, diabetes, hypertension, or psychosis).


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