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
In the Workplace
Teasing and bullying are concepts we think we leave behind once we grow up and step off the playground, but for many overweight adults, being picked on at work is a real concern. In a survey of 2,249 overweight and obese women published in the journal Obesity, 25% reported that they had experienced weight-based discrimination, like derogatory humor, denial of promotion, or firing—in the workplace. Of these women, 54% stated that they had been stigmatized by colleagues and 43% by their supervisors.
Weighing more can also mean taking home less. A study of more than 12,000 adults published in Health Economics revealed that obese men took home between 0.7 and 3.4% less than their normal-weight counterparts, while the wage penalty for obese women was 2.3 to 6.1%, even after controlling for socioeconomic and family status. Research conducted at Marquette University reveals a similar trend: In a survey of 6,600 white and African American adults ages 23 to 30, severely obese women and men received lower wages—24% less for white women, 14.6% less for African American women, 19.6% less for white men, and 3.5% less for African American men.
Obese individuals are much less likely to get hired for a position, even when they are equally or more credentialed than their thinner competition, says Puhl. Research suggests that during interviews overweight or obese individuals are disadvantaged by common stereotypes—views that heavier employees are less conscientious, less agreeable, less emotionally stable, and more introverted compared with normal-weight workers. However, when researchers at Michigan State University and Hope College examined the validity of these stereotypes, they found that demographic variables such as age and gender were better predictors of personality traits than BMI.
What Your Employer Can Do
While antibullying policies exist in many workplaces, they can be vague in terms of the type of bullying they prohibit, notes Puhl, adding that obesity discrimination in the workplace needs to be put on par with discrimination based on race, gender, and sexual orientation. “Companies need to ensure that human resources personnel and hiring managers are provided with training to make sure weight-based discrimination is not taking place before a person is even hired,” she says.
Change Perceptions by…
Practicing good self-care. “Taking care of yourself physically improves your ability to handle these situations,” says Copeland. “This can be anything, from getting a good night’s sleep to participating in enjoyable physical activity to making sure your body is getting the fuel it needs from your nutrition.” Also participate in stress-busting activities, like deep breathing exercises, journaling, art, dancing, or listening to music, she suggests.
Keeping records and speaking up. Monitor or record situations during which you are treated unfairly, and then report the occurrences to your hiring manager or HR contact, advises Puhl, who also suggests checking out the following resources for antibullying in the workplace.
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