Two new studies from Yale shed light on patients’ language preferences for discussing Binge Eating Disorder and obesity.
In the studies, which were published on June 28 in Psychiatry Research and Sept. 28 in the International Journal of Clinical Practice, researchers assessed preferences for common loss of control descriptions and gathered data on preferences for weight-related terms, according to one of the study papers. The researchers found that the most preferred terms were “weight” and “BMI,” while the least preferred terms included “fatness,” “heaviness” and “large size.” These findings may help medical providers avoid stigmatizing phrases, allowing them to communicate more effectively with patients who have BED, obesity or both, according to the studies.
The June study developed a questionnaire that evaluated preferences for weight-related terms among people who had been diagnosed with BED, while the September study used a larger online community sample that also included individuals who did not fit the criteria for the disorder.
“Our studies added new information for medical providers on how individuals want their providers to talk about their eating behaviors, specifically binge eating,” said Janet Lydecker, associate research scientist in psychiatry at the Yale School of Medicine. She noted that asking patients about their preferences is informative and gives them a voice in their own health care.
While both studies examined preferred terms for obesity and binge eating, one study used a patient sample, and the other study used a nonclinical sample, according to Lydecker. Katie Galbraith ’16, a co-author on the study, presented the results as a poster at the Association of Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies scientific conference.
“Earlier work looked at how patients wanted their providers to talk about weight, and our two studies showed the same pattern of preferences,” Lydecker noted. The most preferred terms — like “weight” or “BMI” — were words any medical provider could use with any patient, she added. When discussing Binge Eating Disorder, the least preferred phrase was “You knew you would eat a large amount but didn’t even consider stopping.” Lydecker said this term could imply that the medical provider is blaming the patient.
These preferred and nonpreferred terms were generally consistent across sociodemographic characteristics, according to one of the study papers. However, women’s ratings for nonpreferred obesity-related terms were more strongly negative than men’s ratings for the same nonpreferred terms.
Many people suffering from Binge Eating Disorder report that it is a stigmatized and frequently misunderstood disease, according to the National Eating Disorders Association. Regardless of whether or not they have BED, individuals with obesity are often targets of bias and stigma, according to the Obesity Society.
BED is characterized by recurrent episodes of eating large quantities of food, often very quickly or to the point of discomfort. These episodes are accompanied by distress and the feeling of loss of control, per NEDA. In addition, BED is the most common eating disorder in the United States, affecting 3.5 percent of women and 2 percent of men.
Lydecker said that the researchers’ work aims to improve patients’ experiences while they are receiving treatment. In the future, the researchers plan to ask other patient groups about their language preferences, she added.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than one-third of adults in the United States have obesity.