Weight Discrimination Increasing Among American Adults

Based on everything from name calling to losing a job, perceived discrimination against overweight people is on the rise, according to a study by Yale’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity.

The study published in Obesity is believed to be the first to document patterns of weight discrimination in the United States. The data also showed that during the same 10-year period, reports of discrimination based on race were stable, but there were increases in reports of bias based on gender and age. The increase in weight bias was evident in all groups except the elderly.

The information showing that weight discrimination has increased from seven percent to 12 percent was mined from two waves of the National Survey of Midlife Development in the United States (MIDUS) conducted in 1995-1996 and 2004-2006. Nearly 3,500 adults 35- to 74-years-old were polled.

“Weight discrimination is highly prevalent in American society and increasing at disturbing rates,” said Tatiana Andreyeva, a postdoctoral associate and lead author of the study. “Our findings justify the need for legal remedies to protect this population and reduce stigma associated with obesity.”

The discrimination was gauged by asking participants whether they had experienced bias, and if so, for what reason. Instances of discrimination that were listed included, among others, being denied a scholarship, job, or promotion; losing a job; being denied a bank loan; receiving inferior medical care; being hassled by police; receiving poorer service in a restaurant or store; name calling; threatening, or harassment.

“Our findings reinforce decades of experimental research documenting weight bias and prejudice,” said co-author Rebecca Puhl, director of Research and Anti-Stigma Initiatives at the Rudd Center. “Without major shifts in societal attitudes, it is likely these increasing trends of weight discrimination will continue.”

Obesity (March 2008) doi: 1038/oby.2008.25

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Karen N. Peart: karen.peart@yale.edu, 203-432-1326