Why We Use the Words We Use and What They Mean to Us

Using person-first and gender-neutral language is one way in which we welcome all readers to LIVESTRONG.com.
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LIVESTRONG.com delivers trusted health, nutrition and fitness information. For ​all​.

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And the only way we can deliver on that most fundamental part of our mission is through inclusive, accessible and welcoming language.

Language can be oppressive, or it can be liberating. For language to truly be inclusive and accessible, it has to evolve.

Here at LIVESTRONG.com, our language is constantly evolving to become more inclusive of the variety of experiences of our readers. We won't always get it right, but we pledge to continue to learn and adapt.

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Here are some of the areas where our language choices matter most, and the decisions we've made to best serve and represent ​all​ of our readers.

Race and Ethnicity

We follow Associated Press (AP) Style on most matters relating to race and ethnicity. We capitalize Black and Indigenous when used to describe a person's race or ethnicity, but we do not capitalize white.

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As the AP explains, this "convey[s] an essential and shared sense of history, identity and community among people who identify as Black.... White people generally do not share the same history and culture, or the experience of being discriminated against because of skin color."

Sex and Gender

Gender is not binary, and even biological sex is more nuanced than was once believed, according to the American Psychological Association. As such, we consider both to be spectrums and avoid language that implies a sex or gender binary in favor of neutral language, such as "assigned female at birth" (AFAB), "assigned male at birth" (AMAB), "pregnant people" and "people with prostates."

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We use gender when referring to a person's social identity; we use sex when referring to biological characteristics.

We always ask our sources for their pronouns.

This is in line with current scientific thinking about sex and gender. "The research and medical community now sees sex as more complex than male and female, and gender as a spectrum that includes transgender people and those who identify as neither male nor female," according to an October 2018 editorial in ​Nature​.

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"The idea that science can make definitive conclusions about a person's sex or gender is fundamentally flawed," the authors write. "Political attempts to pigeonhole people have nothing to do with science and everything to do with stripping away rights and recognition from those whose identity does not correspond with outdated ideas of sex and gender."

We recognize some sources we cite may use outdated terminology or language that doesn’t align with our style.

For the sake of accuracy, we will typically use the language in the original source material or quote, but we always note these discrepancies when they arise. For example, we might include a note like: "The original study categorized participants as men and women, which is why we've used that language below."

Health Status

We use language that is neutral, nonjudgmental, non-stigmatizing and based in physiology when writing about health. We believe people "live with" conditions and diseases, they don't "suffer from" them.

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We look to the National Center on Disability and Journalism (NCDJ) for guidance here: "These terms carry the assumption that a person with a disability is suffering or has a reduced quality of life. Not every person with a disability suffers, is a victim or is stricken." This language is also in line with AP Style, which suggests avoiding "descriptions that connote pity."

For the most part, we use person-first language, such as "person with diabetes" instead of "diabetic," "person with a disability" instead of "disabled person" and "person with depression" instead of "depressed person." This language is typically considered neutral, respectful and free from stigma, which in turn imparts hope and fosters collaboration between people and their doctors, according to the American Diabetes Association (ADA).

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That said, we recognize some people prefer identity-first language. Certain groups — including some autistic people and deaf people, for example — "consider their disabilities to be inseparable parts of who they are," according to Syracuse University's Disability Cultural Center. "Using person-first language, some also argue, makes the disability into something negative, which can and should be separated from the person." For that reason, we always ask sources for their preferred terminology and use that language when referring to them.

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Body Size and Weight

We don't believe in losing weight for weight loss' sake. We promote nutrition and exercise for their health benefits. We recognize that some people are looking to lose weight, some aspire to gain weight and others don't track the number on the scale.

We try our best not to assign moral judgment to food or fitness; we recognize this is incredibly difficult to do well all the time, as value judgments surrounding food and fitness are so deeply ingrained in society.

We provide helpful information about safe and sustainable weight loss and gain for people who are searching for it, and we always suggest discussing weight management with a trusted health expert.

We use person-first language, such as "people with underweight," "people with overweight" and "people with obesity," rather than "underweight person," "overweight person" or "obese person."

"Labeling individuals as 'obese' creates negative feelings toward individuals with obesity and perpetuates weight bias," according to the Obesity Action Coalition.

Using this terminology as it relates to body size is considered neutral, nonjudgmental and based in physiology — not stigma — which means it's more inclusive, hopeful and helpful, according to the ADA.

We recognize that different people use different language to describe their own body size — some identify as "fat" while others prefer "plus-size," for example — which is why we always ask sources about their preferred terminology when relevant to an article.

We Want to Hear From You

As journalists, we believe the words we choose matter, and we have been deliberate about these choices. We're also human, and we make mistakes. If you have a question, comment, concern or suggestion about the language we use and why we use it or if you see problematic or outdated language in our library, write to us at editorial@livestrong.com.

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Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.

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