Obesity can be seen as an epidemic of the 21st century. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) statistics showed that the total number of adult U.S. citizens who were obese in 2016 was about 36.5%. More than 12.7 million children and adolescents are obese in the United States. These figures are pointing to the fact that significant proportion of the economically productive age group is overweight and more will be obese in few years’ time going by the level of obesity among children.
Obesity discrimination is the unjust treatment being meted out to the obese people due to their weight. Examples of these include being denied employment just because of weight, not promoted at the place of work or even fired from a job all because he’s obese.
Weight Discrimination and Stigmatization
Discrimination and stigmatization against obese people have become pervasive, occurring in schools, public places, public transports and in workplaces. The reasons for this level of discrimination might not be unconnected to the perceived and genuine problems associated with obesity. However, the effects of stigmatization and discrimination on the physical and mental health of the obese individuals call for drastic actions to curb these social injustices.
Most people have the belief that obesity is preventable and controllable. They see obese people as architects of their condition due to physical inactivity and excessive eating. As a result, they show negative attitudes towards the obese seeing them as people who are lazy with lack of willpower and therefore treat them with less respect. Obese people experience a lot of stigmatization from healthy weight individuals by calling them unacceptable names or passing derogatory comments on them. They may also experience physical aggression and social isolation.
Obesity has been associated with many diseases that negatively impact the quality of life and some that are even life-threatening. Cardiovascular diseases, diabetes mellitus, osteoarthritis, sleep apnea with its attendant daytime sleepiness, are conditions that can affect the productivity and efficiency of an obese person at work. Managing these disease conditions also come at a higher cost to the employers of labor. It is therefore not surprising that most companies often deny obese individuals employment.
Studies have shown that obese candidates are often considered as less suitable for an employment position when compared to their healthy weight peers and occupations that are physically demanding show higher level of discrimination towards obese individuals. Because of this level of discrimination, obese people are often seen in jobs that are associated with lower socioeconomic status.
Shuttle et al. reported that employers often rank obese employees lower compared to their healthy weight peers and make them work for more hours while starting them on lower salaries. This discrimination tends to be higher among obese females than males.
The discrimination of the obese people is one of the factors that may work against them in sustaining their weight loss dietary and exercise plans. Although some people have the belief that stigmatization and discrimination will serve as methods of reducing the prevalence of obesity by compelling an obese person to adopt weight-reducing lifestyle habits. This is absolutely far from being true as stigmatization against people infected with HIV/AIDS was counterproductive to the prevention, spread and treatment of the epidemic. This was why the theme for the 2002-2003 World AIDS campaign was “stigma and discrimination”.
Obesity discrimination has become an acceptable practice in our society today. This is due to the erroneous beliefs that obese people are responsible being overweight and that discrimination will force them to adopt a healthy lifestyle. The negative effect of discrimination and stigmatization on the psychological well-being of an obese person often impact negatively on his ability to sustain his weight reducing plans.
To achieve a reduction in the prevalence of obesity, there must be adequate public awareness of the causes of obesity including its genetic and hereditary predisposition. Appropriate legislation must be put in place to protect obese people from stigmatization and discrimination.
- Adult Obesity Facts | Overweight & Obesity | CDC. Cdcgov. 2017. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/adult.html. Accessed September 24, 2017.
- Obesity Facts | Healthy Schools | CDC. Cdcgov. 2017. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/healthyschools/obesity/facts.htm. Accessed September 24, 2017.
- Puhl RM, Heuer CA. Obesity Stigma: Important Considerations for Public Health. American Journal of Public Health. 2010;100(6):1019-1028. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2009.159491.
- Flint SW, Čadek M, Codreanu SC, Ivić V, Zomer C, Gomoiu A. Obesity Discrimination in the Recruitment Process: “You’re Not Hired!” Frontiers in Psychology. 2016;7:647. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2016.00647.