Weight Bias and Obesity Discrimination
Can We Shake Weight-Based Stereotypes?
Debunking Weight Bias
In the Workplace
At the Doctor’s Office
In the Classroom or Admissions Office
With Friends, Family, and Significant Others
Debunking Weight Bias
Image: Courtesy of Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity
From in-your-face public health campaigns to trendy diet foods, tremendous effort goes into fighting America’s obesity epidemic. Still, in our rush to slim down society at large, we’ve failed to make an important observation: Millions of Americans are living their lives in bigger bodies, and not all can, will, or even want to slim down. The irony of it all: While overweight and obese individuals face stigmas in the doctor’s office, workplace, classroom, family dinner table, and on the big screen, research suggests that negative stereotypes in these settings reduce quality of life and hinder rather than promote weight loss.
“When a person is stigmatized or discriminated against because of weight, he or she is more likely to experience depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and also is more likely to engage in unhealthy eating behavior, like binge eating, extreme dieting, or staying away from physical activity, which all come back to obesity,” says Rebecca Puhl, PhD, director of research at Yale University’s Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity.
So what’s the solution? Experts in the field of fat acceptance agree that reducing weight bias must come from a shift in societal attitudes, including changing media portrayals, fixing public education programs geared toward explaining the causes of and solutions to obesity, and promoting legislation that would put weight bias on par with discrimination based on race, gender, and sexual orientation.
On a smaller scale, sticking up for yourself and not holding yourself responsible for another person’s attitudes and misperceptions are key, says Jennifer Copeland, a member of the Association for Size Diversity and Health’s Education Committee. “Do not feel compelled to shatter the stereotypes someone else holds by behaving a certain way,” she says. “Instead, work to change those perceptions—not yourself.”
Here, we’ll walk you through weight biases that exist in four settings and give you tips for helping your doctor, employer, professor, or spouse see beyond your weight.