Picture and Language Usage Shapes Attitudes towards People with Health Issues

Posted on 21.09.2023

How you portray people who live with a health issue is important when it comes to shaping attitudes and behaviour. Media, health professionals, organisations and others who disseminate and describe people who live with health issues through pictures and language play a central role our understanding and attitudes towards a subject such as obesity and diabetes. What is more, it also affects people who live with overweight or diabetes’ self-understanding.

person with health issues
Photo: Danish National Center for Obesity. Photographer: Birthe Vembye

The Power of Pictures

To counter stigmatising portrayals of people who live with obesity or overweight, the Danish National Center for Obesity has created a new picture data bank for obesity that is free for all to use. About the picture data bank, the Centre writes:

  • When the subject is obesity, the tendency is to use pictures of people who a very obese. They are typically engaging in a stereotypical activity such as overeating or watching television. This speaks directly to the societal narrative and prejudices about people with overweight. We want to change this narrative by demonstrating diversity in overweight and by making free pictures available that represent ordinary lived lives.

The overall aim is to contribute to an inclusive, non-stigmatising and empowering representation.

When Language Matters

Language is an equally powerful tool for shaping attitudes and behaviour in media and healthcare. Today, scientists and health care professionals’ communication with and about people with diabetes often includes non-inclusive, stigmatising and disempowering language. Using inclusive and empowering language has a huge potential to improve the health outcomes of people with diabetes.

We have made a podcast episode about the challenges and solutions regarding this issue in the DDEA podcast episode Engaging People with Diabetes: Language Matters that we think is worth a listen.

Read more about the picture bank.

The Director, Clinical Professor Jens Melgaard Bruun, invites media, NGO’s and researchers to use the picture bank in a statement on X. We were lucky to hear an engaging talk on the matter ‘Does stigmatisation in obesity prevent weight loss?’ at the DDEA Postdoc Summit.

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