Psychologists said finding new ways to describe the issue could mean that those who needed to lose weight were more likely to accept health advice.
And they said it was “more holistic” to describe such individuals as “people with obesity” or “people living with obesity” rather than simply calling them obese.
“It is important to avoid language and explanations that locate the ‘problem’ of obesity within individuals. Whilst obesity is caused by behaviour, those behaviours do not always involve ‘choice’ or ‘personal responsibility.’ What individuals eat and how much physical activity they do is largely determined by their genes, psychological factors and their social environment,” they conclude.
They said: “Obesity is not simply down to an individual’s lack of willpower. The people who are most likely to be an unhealthy weight are those who have a high genetic risk of developing obesity and whose lives are also shaped by work, school and social environments that promote overeating and inactivity.
Those behind the study argue that people become overweight or obese as a result of a complex combination of factors, including genetics, responses to stress from childhood, sedentary lifestyles and lack of healthy food options.
The report said that dieters are also “particularly susceptible to emotional eating.”
“People who live in deprived areas often experience high levels of stress, including major life challenges and trauma, often their neighbourhoods offer few opportunities and incentives for physical activity and options for accessing affordable healthy food are limited.
It can leave people feeling belittled, berated and disrespected. It makes them worry that they will not be taken seriously and leaves them reluctant to address their weight concerns.
Christopher Snowdon from the Institute of Economic Affairs said: “The idea that we should de-stigmatise obesity while encouraging the government to ‘approach the problem in the same way it did smoking’ is laughable. Smokers are virtually second class citizens in Britain thanks to a conscious process of ‘denormalisation’.
Chartered psychologist, Dr Angel Chater from the University of Bedfordshire, one of the authors of the report, said: “Adult obesity levels in England increased by 18 per cent between 2005 and 2017, and there were similar increases in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.
He said there was a “negligible” difference between describing someone as an “obese person” or a “person with obesity”.
Earlier this year the Royal College of Physicians joined the World Health Organisation in calling for obesity to be classified as a disease.
“This cannot be explained by a sudden loss of motivation across the four nations of the UK.
“The increase in obesity can in part be attributed to changes in the food supply and physical activity environment.”
Tam Fry, from the National Obesity Forum, said: ” Language is so important and the Society is absolutely correct in its advice. There are millions of people whose genetic makeup predisposes them to gaining weight and their difficulties are made the worse by having to cope with an environment in which maintaining a ‘healthy weight’ is a battle.
He said it was “abusive” to label people in any way that suggested they had chosen to be obese.