Chances are some of your worksite wellness program participants have health issues such as heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, COPD, cancer, or other diseases, disorders, syndromes, or conditions. You want to provide these individuals with valuable information they can use as they manage or attempt to overcome their issues, but you need to be sensitive to your word choices.
Word Choice Can Make or Break Your Health & Wellness Messages
Here are four tips to keep in mind as you talk to or write about individuals with health issues:
#1. Avoid “suffers from” – as in “individuals who suffer from heart disease.” Simply say or write, “individuals with heart disease” or “individuals diagnosed with heart disease.”
#2. Don’t label a person as a disease or condition. Instead of “diabetics,” say or write, “individuals with diabetes” or “individuals diagnosed with diabetes.”
#3. Never use “struggles with” – as in “people who struggle with high blood pressure.” You want to encourage individuals who have health issues, and “struggle” doesn’t convey that. It has a negative connotation. Instead, say or write, “people dealing with high blood pressure.”
#4. Focus on the positive. Frame statistics and recommendations in terms of positive outcomes, not negative consequences. Say or write, “Going for a 30-minute walk every day will improve your cardiovascular health by X%,” instead of “A sedentary lifestyle increases your chances of a heart attack by X%.”
Also, be sure not to use disease, disorder, syndrome, and condition interchangeably. These terms don’t mean the same thing. Here’s what each term means:
- A DISEASE is a pathophysiological response to internal or external factors. Doctors diagnose and treat diseases based on abnormal system functions (e.g., cardiovascular disease) that cause both physical and emotional signs and symptoms.
- A DISORDER is a disruption to regular bodily structure and function. For example, a disorder resulting from cardiovascular disease is an arrhythmia or heart failure.
- A SYNDROME is a collection of signs and symptoms associated with a specific health-related cause. Down syndrome is a well-known genetic disorder characterized by having an extra copy of chromosome 21 in combination with a number of distinctive physical features at birth.
- A CONDITION is an abnormal state of health that interferes with normal or regular feelings of wellbeing. For example, chronic fatigue syndrome is a neurological condition, diagnosed from a collection of symptoms in addition to the main symptom.
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