Why we should use the term “recurrence” when talking about weight


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Publish date

18th July 2022


Dr. Kate McCann

The patient hands me the phone: “See this? This is me just before Covid.  I was down to 11 stone….I’ve gained it all back.”

What’s my next step as a doctor?  My next step is to make sure the patient knows this:  Obesity is a chronic disease.  Like other chronic disease, obesity can recur. (“recur” is the medical term for a disease to “come back”)

Yes:  Recurrence.

Not “re-gained” weight.  Not “weight recidivismurrence.”.  Recurrence.  The same word we use for diseases like cancer or tuberculosis. Chronic diseases can have recurrences and relapses. Obesity is a chronic disease.

A colleague recently sent me a recent paper* promoting that we change and standardise the language used in obesity treatment to use the word “recurrence.”

Language matters.

What is the step after that? So much!  Check the patient’s weight is having on them currently (blood pressure, blood sugar, joint pain, etc.) and work with the patient to make a treatment plan.

Weight is not beauty. Weight is not image.  Weight is not morally good or bad.  Weight is an aspect of health.  We certainly do not judge someone for their blood pressure.  Whatever that number is, we all know that people with high blood pressure usually need a  combination of both medical (tablets) and lifestyle (change of diet and activity) treatments to bring down their blood pressure to reduce risk of heart disease and stroke.  Why would we – why do we – treat obesity differently?

*For the scientific-minded: https://www.soard.org/article/S1550-7289(22)00157-5/fulltext

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