The alarming rise of obesity and weight discrimination in the United States over the years mirrors opinions about obesity held by government and media alike. Weight discrimination, like other forms of discrimination, is highly dependent on public perception. Although research provides significant evidence that obesity is a chronic disease, popular opinions about obesity continue to reflect the belief that weight gain is a choice. Weight discrimination is rampant in the workplace, health care and education arenas.
Laws against obesity discrimination are changing opinions about obesity in America. Advocacy groups for obesity litigation have become watchdogs for the obese. They've given people who suffer from this condition something they've never had before: their own voice.
While the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was instrumental in preventing discrimination against people of color, it doesn't protect against weight discrimination. The Rehabilitation Act (1973) and Americans With Disabilities Act (1990) offer some protection against discriminating against employees with disabilities, including obesity.
Few laws against obesity discrimination protect the obese individual who is capable of performing a job. The only state known to have laws against obesity discrimination is Michigan. Advocates for laws against obesity discrimination continue to lobby at both the state and federal levels.
Studies at Western Michigan University (2006) indicate that weight discrimination affects all aspects of employment, and that opinions about obesity have a negative impact on both job offers and job placement. But weight discrimination doesn't end there. Once employed, obese persons are less likely to receive promotions and more likely to be disciplined or demoted.
Obese women and minorities suffer greater weight discrimination than obese men. According to researchers at the Western Michigan University (2006), mildly obese women earn wages almost 6 percent lower than other employees doing the same job. The wages paid to morbidly obese women were only about 75 percent of wages paid to others.
Obese men saw a reduction in pay only when morbidly obese. In fact, slightly overweight men actually make a slightly higher salary then their thinner peers, suggesting that opinions about obesity affect women more than men.
Few childhood obesity discrimination laws exist. Some laws on obesity focus on preventing access to junk food in school cafeterias. Other childhood obesity laws strive to increase physical education requirements in schools.
Advocates of childhood obesity laws hope that advertising junk food to children will eventually be controlled, such as alcohol and tobacco products are. Fast food chains often oppose suggestions that childhood obesity laws should limit marketing to children.
American Obesity Association. (2005). Discrimination. Retrieved June 22, 2010, from http://obesity1.tempdomainname.com/discrimination/employment.shtml.
Obesity Society. (2010). Obesity, bias and stigmatization. Retrieved June 22, 2010, from http://www.obesity.org/information/weight_bias.asp.
Roehling, M. V. (2006). Weight-based discrimination in employment: Psychological and legal aspects. Retrieved June 22, 2010, from http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/journal/119065106/abstract?CRETRY=1
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