In a society where it is taboo to discriminate against someone for gender, race or religion, discrimination based on body shape and size is all too common and often is not recognized as a form of prejudice.
Weight bias means that overweight or obese people are not treated equally when compared to non-overweight people. Weight bias may exist because of beliefs that overweight and obese people are lazy and that the only reason people fail to lose weight is because they lack willpower. This can have serious consequences in many areas of a person’s life.
Weight bias can happen anywhere, including workplaces, healthcare settings, and schools. Examples of weight bias in the workplace are not being hired because of weight or being fired for not losing weight. Studies show that obese people have lower rates of employment and earn less than non-overweight people.
In healthcare, clients may experience weight bias when they are not provided with appropriate sized medical gowns, chairs, blood pressure cuffs, etc. Another example of weight bias is when overweight clients are told, or are made to feel as though their health concerns are a result of their weight. As a result, overweight patients may not seek medical care.
Studies show that in schools, students are more likely to choose not to be friends with overweight classmates. Classmates may see obese children as lazy, stupid, ugly, mean, and unhappy with them. These attitudes may begin in pre-school and can get worse as children grow up. As a result, obese elementary school children miss more days of school than non-obese children. Obese children who are treated poorly by their classmates are more likely to suffer from depression, low self-esteem, poor body image, and suicidal thoughts. As well, they are more likely to have unhealthy eating habits and avoid physical activity.
What can be done to reduce weight bias?
- § Advocate for fair treatment of overweight people in the media, entertainment industry and all walks of life.
- § Become educated about the complex causes of obesity.
- § Raise awareness about weight bias and its harmful effects.
- § Focus on healthy lifestyles rather than weight loss.
- § Do not blame obese people for their condition.
Like all other forms of prejudice, weight bias should never be tolerated. Everyone can play their part by taking a stand against unfair treatment of people based on weight.
WRITTEN BY THE PUBLIC HEALTH NUTRITIONISTS OF SASKATCHEWAN
Originator: Dawn Herauf, Dietetic Intern
Supervisor: Heather Drozd, R.D.
Puhl, R.M. & Heuer, C.A. (2009). The stigma of obesity: A review and update, www.obesityjournal.org/.
Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity. (2008). Weight bias: The need for public policy, www.yaleruddcenter.org/.