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While laws protect against some forms of discrimination, prejudice persists and some forms of discrimination are commonplace, whether people realize it or not. Regardless of race, sexual orientation or religious belief, discrimination based on weight exists in social and workplace settings affecting the ability of overweight people to make friends and get a desired job.
Worse than smokers who can more easily hide their habit, fatter Americans face discrimination daily, whether obvious or not. They are thwarted when they access employment or promotions, health care, education and even lodging. While there are more and more people fitting the category, a fat American faces ridicule, marginalization and, when it comes to health care costs from an employment or college room and board standpoint, a cost to be cut or avoided.
It may be subconscious, but the judgment is there. Walk into a room filled with strangers, whether a party, conference room, a class or a sorority rush. Eliminating racial or age differences, odds are people will gravitate toward the more attractive, i.e. thinner people, to get to know and avoid those with extra poundage.
Doctors, jurors, and employers resort to playground prejudices when making judgments. One study found that doctors have a bias against overweight patients and assume they will disregard medical advice. If a lean woman and an overweight woman are on trial for the same crime, a study showed that the jury would be more likely to convict the larger woman.
The discrimination starts in school, both socially and academically, and continues on into the workforce. Here are some data found in other studies, according to the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance and other sources:
- 1 of 3 heavier children has experienced bias from a teacher.
- 2 of every 3 heavier children experienced teasing or other types of bias from a classmate. However, that does not end with adulthood. Heavier people are often positioned in life and film as the butt of jokes or DUFF (designated ugly fat friend).
- Fat students are less likely to be accepted to a college, even if they have comparable academic performance.
- Teachers have lower expectations for fat students in comparison to thinner students.
- Fat people can be terminated or suspended because of their weight, despite good job performance.
- Weight/height discrimination is as prevalent as rates of racial discrimination especially among women.
- Fatter people earn up to 6 percent or $1.50 per hour less than thinner people in similar positions, according to different research efforts
- A survey of 500 fat women indicted that 68 percent delayed seeking health care because of their weight.
- Additionally, when it comes to leadership roles, women are expected to be slim but men are not, which is also sex discrimination.
Many believe that weight discrimination should be accepted, because, unlike race or other areas, being overweight can be changed. However, that is not always true and discrimination is discrimination, whether based on size or anything else. Or is it? Weight discrimination is actually legal in most areas. Only one state and six U.S. cities have made discrimination based on weight or other physical characteristics against the law. They are Michigan; Santa Cruz and San Francisco, Calif.; Madison, Wisc.; Urbana, Illinois; Binghamton, NY, and Washington, DC. Yet, many states prohibit employers from discriminating against people because who smoke. Further, the Americans With Disabilities Act prohibits employers from discriminating against workers with disabilities, but it does not prohibit discrimination based on things like overeating, lack of exercise, poor diet or other behaviors that increase the likelihood of a future disability.
Lower income people tend to eat poorer quality, more fattening diets than those who earn more thereby exacerbating the issue. The problem of weight discrimination is like to keep growing with U.S. waistlines. By 2030, it is expected that half of all American adults will be obese if nothing is done to address the obesity epidemic, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation finds. Given the number of studies that correlate obesity with lower opportunities for advancement and unemployment, it is a never-ending spiral downward if discrimination by weight continues.
Written and edited by Dyanne Weiss
AOL Finance: Is Weight Discrimination At Work Illegal?
Reuters: Fat and getting fatter: U.S. obesity rates to soar by 2030
National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance: Facts on Size Discrimination
New York Times: Protecting Employees’ Health Data
Minnesota Department of Human Rights: Where It’s Illegal: Weight Bias Laws Elsewhere
Everyday Feminism: These 6 Chilling Facts Prove Size Discrimination Against Fat People Is Real
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