Plus size patients dislike being labelled as obese

Plus size patients can delay seeking healthcare due to embarrassment and uncertainty over whether the equipment will be available to handle their weight1.


INTERVIEW WITH TRACEY: Using the words bariatric, obese and plus size 

Seventy-six Australians2 gave an insight into life as an overweight person, highlighting how seemingly simple labels, no matter how well meaning, can cause distress.

  • 80% of interviewees said that they hated or disliked the word obesity and would rather be called (surprisingly) fat or overweight.

“Morbidly obese I hate it. I hate that term. It just plays hell with my mind. I’m not morbid, I’m not ugly, I’m not a morbid person, I’m a happy person”.

  • 50% of participants stated that they had been humiliated or had derogatory comments made about their weight by health professionals and many felt they were misunderstood.3

How can this be overcome?

The response must not only encompass technical strategies, but also resonate with the experiences of those affected by it.3 All patients should be treated with respect, dignity and compassion. How can we do this?

  • A hospital or clinic should be able to welcome a patient of any size, without fear of embarrassment or loss of dignity. For example, wider chairs and accessible restrooms for large patients and their family. The bariatric equipment should be readily available without “making a fuss” to find it and have enough space to work.
  • Provide equipment, such as bariatric hospital beds, that look as similar as possible to standard beds.
  • Use a pressure-redistributing mattress with moisture management cover to reduce the likelihood of distressing pressure injuries and moisture lesions on the skin, which can lead to odour and embarrassment.
  • Use unobtrusive bariatric ceiling lift equipment to avoid multiple staff gathering to manually handle the patient – overweight patients fear hurting others and being manually handled is far from dignified. Use a combination bed sheet and sling for instant access, less effort and more comfort.
  • Mobile bariatric lifting aids can help facilitate safe and more dignified patient handling.
  • Assisted toileting and bathing can be embarrassing for any patient, but an overweight person may have additional concerns about the weight tolerance of equipment. Having bariatric bathroom equipment available ensures both comfort and patient dignity.
  • Educate! A recent study found that “professional training guidelines for the non-judgmental treatment of obese patients are not only being recognised, but implemented”4. A step in the right direction for bariatric care!

If you need to build or adapt your healthcare facility to cater for these demographic changes, you can download the bariatric chapter of the Arjo Guidebook for Architects and Planners.


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2 Beitz JM. Providing Quality Skin and Wound Care for the Bariatric Patient: An Overview of Clinical Challenges. Ostomy Wound Manage. 2014;60(1):12-21

3 Thomas SL, Hyde J, Karunaratne A et al. Being ‘fat’ in todays world: a qualitative study of the lived experiences of people with obesity in Australia. Health Expectations. 2008;11:321–330

4 Nicholls W, Pilsbury L, Blake M et al. The attitudes of student nurses towards obese patients: A questionnaire study exploring the association between perceived causal factors and advice giving. Nurse Ed Today. 2015.

In press.