Obesity Presenting Challenges for Job Seekers


The topic of obesity is no longer a first for news reports in the U.S. Individuals, families, and schools have all been tapping into every resource and avenue available in order to combat the perils that arise from too much weight. The reputation that the U.S. has garnered for overweight citizens has become the occasional target of joking and mockery at times as well. Obesity is far from a comical matter, however, and it has led to many of those facing weight problems to feel humiliated and depressed. In the midst of both local and national programs being launched to assist those interested in losing weight, obesity is still presenting challenges for those it afflicts, not the smallest of which is seeking a job.

Even with a casual glance, the obesity statistics plaguing the U.S. are nowhere near pleasing. 68.5 percent of adults are overweight or obese, with 34.9 percent being obese. 31.8 percent of children and teens are overweight or obese, with 16.9 percent being obese. This means that about every third adult that one could meet while walking out in public would be obese, and nearly every sixth child or teen that one could meet would be obese.

Such numbers are frightening and bode obstacles beyond the normal scope of most health problems. Certainly, such rampant obesity cannot merely be chalked up to the choices made by those who are battling with weight gain. As a number of recent Gallup polls have revealed, part of the struggle that obese people face is manifested psychologically with joblessness.

Hagerstown, Maryland was recently named the third most obese metropolitan area in the U.S., where about 37 percent of its inhabitants are obese. 40 percent of Huntington, West Virginia’s residents are obese, making it the most obese metropolitan location in the country. Only seven percent of job seekers in this city are fighting to remove their unemployment, however, a relatively low percentage for the challenges presented to job seekers affected by obesity elsewhere.

Rockford, Illinois faces the highest correlated levels of obesity and unemployment in the U.S., with about 33 percent obese and 12 percent unemployed. Boulder, Colorado is fortunate enough to have the lowest percentage of obese people in the nation, with only 12 percent obese and about five percent unemployed.

David Farrell of Hagerstown, Maryland experienced weight gain of over 50 pounds throughout a year recently, after having lost his retail industry job. After landing a new job stocking shelves, he gradually lost all of the weight that had accumulated. Farrell commented on the nature of his new job, saying, “I burned it off…moving stuff around all day.” He also mentioned that during his time searching for a new job, the depression he often felt made him not want to move around, even if it was related to exercise.

Sadly, a study from 2012 in the BioMed Central Public Health journal revealed a “pronounced stigmatization of obese individuals” by human resources professionals, particularly in regards to women. The Western Maryland Consortium’s (WMC) executive director, Peter Thomas, mentioned that obese job applicants are often equated with individuals who show poor hygiene or extensive body modifications. The WMC is a job training group that helps those seeking for new employment sharpen their skills and identify new opportunities.

With the Hagerstown percentage of overweight or obese residents nearly 10 percent higher than the national average, the city is taking hard and fast efforts towards reducing the severity of the problem. Hagerstown recently threw a contest that encouraged individuals to complete a challenge of walking 100 miles over 100 days, or about one mile per day for a little over three months.

About 100 people showed up for the final rally. But with a population of about 41,000, this means that nearly 30,000 of Hagerstown’s residents are obese. For only 100 people to have attended the final rally of the contest means that nearly all of the city’s obesity-burdened individuals do not see physical activity as enough of a motivation to push through the depression, embarrassment and frustration.

Obesity is perhaps one of the most debilitating problems to be saddled with in the modern world, when all factors are considered. There is emotional baggage to handle, mental frustration to unravel and courage to be recollected. The challenges that are presented to job seekers through obesity are not insignificant, but the best weapon that the obese are wielding is their refusal to quit the search for new and empowering employment.

By Brad Johnson

Washington Post
Food Research and Action Center
Huffington Post

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