The ASOI succeed in changing pejorative stigmatising word for obesity in the Irish language


 16th February 2018

The ASOI succeed in changing pejorative stigmatising word for obesity in the Irish language

The Association for the Study of Obesity on the Island of Ireland (ASOI) leads the way in person-centred obesity prevention, treatment and research, which is characterised by the encouragement of patient input and the determinism ASOI showed in this small but crucial case: until recently, ‘otracht’ was the Irish term for obesity, used in legislation, publications and media throughout Europe and Ireland. Some of these publications are targeted towards children and young people. The English translation of otracht is critical, negative and derogatory. “Language is important. The words we choose matter” says Dr Jean O’Connell, Chair of ASOI. “People living with certain stigmatised diseases say that coping with the stigma of the disease is harder than coping with the disease itself. We need to change the way that we talk about overweight and obesity, in every language”.

Niamh Arthurs (Public Health and Clinical Nutritionist, ASOI Education role) recently addressed this concern with Foras Na Gaeilge, the body responsible for the promotion of the Irish language. Foras Na Gaeilge advised Ms Arthurs to bring the case to the translation section of the Oireachtas in Leinster House. The chief translator in the Oireachtas was very supportive and held a meeting with the steering committee to discuss the issue. Following discussion, the Oireachtas informed the ASOI that the word ‘murtall’ will be used instead of ‘otracht’ in legislation in Ireland and they will also advise European institutions to use the term ‘murtall’ in future.

The terminology committee in Foras Na Gaeilge also stated that they would recommend general use of the term ‘murtall’. ‘An Coiste Téarmaíochta’ were very pleased to have been able to address the concerns of the ASOIabout the terminology used in relation to obesity. Irish is an ever-evolving language and we welcome the opportunity to work in co-operation with concerned parties and interest groups to ensure the language is meeting the needs of its speakers. It is the very richness of our language that gives it the flexibility to adapt and to remain a language that embraces all those who choose to speak it.

“Bhí an -áthas ar an gCoiste Téarmaíochta a bheith in ann aghaidh a thabhairt ar cheisteanna an ASOI maidir leis an téarmaíocht a úsáidtear i dtaobh an mhurtaill. Is teanga í an Ghaeilge a bhíonn ag fás is ag forbairt i gcónaí agus fáiltímid roimh an deis comhoibriú le grúpaí sainleasa agus eile le cinntiú go mbíonn an teanga ag freastal ar riachtanais a pobail labhartha. Is é saibhreas na teanga a ligeann di a bheith solúbtha agus ionchuimsitheach do chainteoirí uile na Gaeilge” – Jenny Ní Mhaoileoin, An Coiste Téarmaíochta, Foras Na Gaeilge.

The two current ASOI patient representatives, Susie Birney and Sven Schubert, frequently provide a patient perspective to the professional community, as well as forming a link between the patient population, health care professionals and policy makers, in order to continuously improve and adjust all efforts in the field. “In line with current medical and social understanding of noncommunicable diseases like obesity, the ASOI acknowledges the crucial role of a person-centred approach to all a spects of treatment and prevention. Patient representation and advocacy is an important part of this approach.” states Mr Schubert. He feels directly affected by the negative connotation in the now retired definition of obesity in Irish and brought his concerns to the attention of ASOI, triggering the process that has now resulted in an updated, more humane and respectful vocabulary of our national language.

Obesity is a complex chronic disease, not a lifestyle choice” says Dr O’Connell. “In spite of a wealth of scientific evidence showing the strong genetic, biological and environmental determinants of obesity, society views obesity very negatively. We need to focus our attention on tackling the disease process, rather than blaming patients who are living with this disease. Changing the way we talk about obesity is an important part of managing a condition that affects just under 1 in 4 Irish adults.”

The ASOI would like to express their gratitude to both the steering committee in the Oireachtas, and Foras Na Gaeilge, for their support in helping to reduce the negative connotations around the word for obesity in the Irish language, by encouraging use of the term ‘murtall’ instead of ‘otracht’.

The ASOI is delighted with this success at the beginning of the planning process for hosting the European Congress on Obesity -International Congress on Obesity (ECO-ICO 2020) in Dublin in 2020. ECO-ICO 2020 will be the first time for the European Association for the Study of Obesity (EASO) and the World Obesity Federation to come together and it will present an excellent occasion to support and highlight obesity research, education and management in Ireland.


Practical guide and image bank for use by journalists, reporters and other media to avoid stigmatising and stereotypical portrayals of individuals with obesity:

Additional resources on weight bias and stigma: