Weight Discrimination

Weight discrimination, as well as weight bias, are believed to be common in North America. This article tells more about the distinction between weight stigma and weight discrimination and how weight discrimination impacts people.

Some people and organizations use the terms weight bias and weight discrimination interchangeably. The Obesity Action Coalition (OAC) makes a distinction. Here's how the two terms differ.

Weight Bias Defined

Weight bias is prejudice towards overweight and obese people. A negative attitude towards those who carry extra weight can make include stereotypes, prejudice, and rejection. It can make itself known through disrespect, teasing, physical abuse, or other behavior that victimizes obese and overweight people. It may also remain predominantly in the biased person's mind - an attitude that is not acted upon. Weight bias may include assumptions such as that overweight and obese people could lose weight if they just put their minds to it or weren't so lazy. These assumptions do not account for the facts: that people carry extra weight for a variety of reasons many of which - like a thyroid condition, for example - are not overcome simply by willpower.

Weight Discrimination Defined

Weight discrimination, in contrast to weight bias, refers to unfair or unequal treatment of an overweight or obese person (or people) in situations in which preference is shown to those who do not have weight issues. It is most notable in the workplace. Although not every hiring of a thinner person rather than a heavier person is an example of weight discrimination - the thinner person might be more qualified for the job, which could, for example, require level of fluency in Japanese that the heavier person has not attained or an amount of activity that the heavier person could not sustain - weight discrimination can occur in the job market.  It can also manifest when promotions are considered or when layoffs occur. College admissions is another area in which consideration for a position should not take weight into account. Other venues in which consideration of weight is unjustified involve money and housing. Turning down loans or mortgages for heavier people is inequitable. So is denying them health insurance.

Weight Discrimination Prevalence

Weight discrimination is sometimes referred to as weight/height discrimination to make the point that it is not necessarily weight alone that draws discriminatory practices. There are no federal laws against discriminating on the basis of weight, though some cities, including San Francisco and Washington, D.C. have local ordinances, as does the state of Michigan. Some people say that as a result of lack of attention to this area of life, weight discrimination is soaring. Data from a study published in 2008 in the International Journal of Obesity - in which people reported their own experiences and in which the distinction between weight bias and weight discrimination was not made - show that weight/height discrimination is perceived even by people who fall within normal weight guidelines, is 4 times as much as that for overweight women, about 10 times as much for moderately obese women and severely obese men, and about 20 times as much of severely obese women.

Rebecca Puhl, lead author of the study and research scientist at the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University, points out that the very fact of having a diet industry suggests that body weight is solely a matter of individual self-control, which is far from true. Eating less and exercising more will not work in every case. In addition, what Puhl refers to as our "toxic food environment" makes it easier and cheaper to eat unhealthy food than a healthy diet.



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