Obesity: The Last Form of Discrimination

Obesity Based Discrimination

I started thinking about this topic when I read a news article about Atlantic City, NJ last night. There is a casino that hires women (and some men) as models and calls them "Borgata Babes." In order to work as a Borgata Babe, the employee must participate in weekly weigh-ins and never gain more than 7% of their hire-date weight. When some employees were fired for gaining too much weight, they were dismissed from their jobs. They then took the challenge to court and lost!

In the United States, we have over they years learned that it is bad to discriminate on the basis of race, religion, income and just about everything else, but not obesity yet. In fact, only one state, Michigan, has laws that protect obese Americans from discrimination. For those who believe that it is acceptable to discriminate against those who are obese, a common argument is that you choose to become obese. In some ways this is true, but there are so many conditional circumstances such as income and metabolism that tip the scales strongly against some people.

Right now over 33% of Americans are obese and around 70% are overweight. These numbers are certainly not good, but let's look at some of the ways that obese Americans are discriminated against.

More likely to be perceived as incompetent: Many people look at those who are obese and think that they are in some way out of control. They are less likely to trust obese Americans than healthier weight Americans and when asked about intelligence, are likely to give obese people lower marks.

Skipped at Work: Whether for hiring, performance evaluations or promotions, obesity makes someone more likely to be ignored in the workplace. This is unfortunate because there is no evidence that obesity makes someone less competent. Some offices will even refuse to hire someone who is obese because they fear that they will have to pay more for health insurance.

Charged Extra: In case you have never noticed, seats in public places tend to be designed for skinny people. Seats are found in lots of places from movie theatres, to parks to subways to airplanes. Many people do not fit well in the "average" seat. As a result, many companies, most notably airlines, charge extra for obese customers. Rather than adjusting seat sizes, obese people are often charged for the price of two seats. An obese person is still one person, not two.

Hopefully in the coming years some of these forms of discrimination will change. A new study was just published that states that shaming obese people by calling them fat and things like that actually increases their chances of remaining obese.