Discrimination against overweight people is rising and now occurs more often than racial bias, according to a Yale University analysis of surveys taken 10 years apart.
Losing out on a job or a scholarship, being refused a bank loan, getting poorer service in a restaurant, receiving inferior medical care, and being harassed by police were among the inequities listed by overweight people responding to a national survey whose results appear in the journal Obesity.
The Yale researchers analyzed responses from two waves of the National Survey of Midlife Development in the United States, the first from 1995-96 and the second from 2004-06. In a telephone survey and questionnaires mailed later, people were asked whether they experienced discrimination over their lifetimes or during day-to-day life. The choices of reasons why were age, gender, race, height or weight, ethnicity or nationality, religion, sexual orientation, physical disability, or some other aspect related to appearance.
In the first survey, 7 percent of the respondents said they had been discriminated against in employment, medical care, or education as well as in personal relationships because of their weight. Ten years later that proportion climbed to 12 percent, above the 11 percent level reported for discrimination based on race, which stayed the same in both time periods. Gender and age bias were higher than both.
Over that 10-year span, the proportion of study participants who were overweight or obese grew from 60 percent to 70 percent, but the authors discount the trend as a cause for more reports of weight bias. They said the increase in obesity came at the extremely high end, for BMIs over 45, but the prevalence of discrimination rose in every other BMI range, down to 27. A normal BMI tops out at 24.9.
Instead the authors point to media reports and the weight-loss business. Both frame obesity as a matter of personal responsibility requiring individual solutions, they say, citing other studies.
"Attributions about personal responsibility for obesity, whether perpetuated by media coverage or by diet industry marketing, could potentially contribute to higher levels of weight bias and perceived discrimination." they write.
The authors call for national action to reduce weight discrimination.
"This problem appears to be worsening over time, and has become comparable in prevalence to other forms of discrimination, such as race and age, which are protected under federal legislation."
White Coat Notes question of the day: Have you ever experienced weight bias? Was it at work, in school, when seeking medical care, or in personal relationships? Send a comment.
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