Media Guidelines for the Portrayal of Individuals Affected by Obesity

Guidelines for the Portrayal of Individuals Affected by Obesity

Learn more about how to put people first when selecting imagery and language for articles about obesity in your publication.


The Obesity Action Coalition (OAC), The Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity and The Obesity Society (TOS) developed guidelines to convey how to appropriately discuss the disease of obesity in the media. The "Media Guidelines for the Portrayal of Individuals Affected by Obesity" help ensure that all persons, regardless of their body weight, are represented equitably and accurately across all publications. Download a full copy of the guidelines to learn ways to use people-first language to describe individuals with obesity, select appropriate imagery and avoid weight-based stereotypes.


People-first language - use "with obesity" vs. "obese"

People-first language is a broadly accepted standard to reduce stigma associated with other diseases. Although it has been widely adopted for most chronic diseases and disabilities, it is often overlooked for obesity.

Referring to individuals with obesity or overweight as 'fat,' 'obese,' or 'extremely obese' can impact how that person feels about his or her condition and how likely they are to take action to improve health. By addressing the disease of obesity we can pursue the treatment and prevention of the disease, while fully respecting the people affected.

Appropriate imagery - images should not be "faceless"

Images can often contribute to the depersonalization and stigmatization of individuals affected by excess weight or obesity. Photographs or video used for journalistic purposes should be chosen carefully to avoid stigma and pejorative portrayals of individuals affected by excess weight or obesity.

Examples of images not to use include the following:

  • Photographs or video that place unnecessary emphasis on excess weight or that isolate an individual’s body parts (e.g. abdomens or buttocks). This includes pictures of individuals affected by obesity from the neck down (or with face blocked) for anonymity.
  • Images that depict individuals affected by obesity engaging in stereotypical behaviors (e.g., eating junk food, engaging in sedentary behavior).

Ensure balance and accuracy - present the science

News stories, reports and papers about obesity should be grounded in scientific findings and evidence-based, peer-reviewed research. Be sure to identify the funding source of any science cited and be aware of potential conflicts of interest related to scientific research findings. Familiarize yourself with the complexities of obesity and consider different sides of the debate.


Read more in the full, downloadable copy of the guidelines here.