Context: Stigmatizing language or non-person-centered language (non-PCL) has been shown to impact patients negatively, especially in the case of obesity. This has led many associations, such as the American Medical Association (AMA) and the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE), to enact guidelines prohibiting the use of stigmatizing language in medical research. In 2018, the AMA adopted person-centered language (PCL) guidelines, including a specific obesity amendment to which all researchers should adhere. However, little research has been conducted to determine if these guidelines are being followed.
Objectives: Our primary objective was to determine if PCL guidelines specific to obesity have been properly followed in the sports medicine journals that are interacted with most frequently.
Methods: We searched within PubMed for obesity-related articles between 2019 and 2022 published in the top 10 most-interacted sports medicine journals based on Google Metrics data. A predetermined list of stigmatizing and non-PCL terms/language was searched within each article.
Results: A total of 198 articles were sampled, of which 58.6 % were found to be not compliant with PCL guidelines. The most common non-PCL terms were “obese” utilized in 49.5 % of articles, followed by “overweight” as the next most common stigmatizing term at 40.4 %. Stigmatizing labels such as “heavy, heavier, heaviness,” “fat” as an adjective, and “morbid” appeared in articles but at a lower rate.
Conclusions: Our study shows that there is a severe lack of adherence to PCL guidelines in the most-interacted sports medicine journals. Negative associations between stigmatizing language and individuals with obesity will only persist if a greater effort is not made to change this. All journals, including the most prestigious ones, should adopt and execute PCL guidelines to prevent the spread of demeaning language in the medical community.