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Fattism: Discrimination As Real As Sexism and Racism

By WLR Staff, by Pat Wilson

The survey asked visitors to the website about their personal experiences of fattism and how they felt this form of discrimination had affected them; in total more than 2,000 visitors to the site completed the survey.

Key Findings

  • Two thirds of people concerned with their weight believe employers have a responsibility to help them stay in shape.
  • More than half (55%) of people concerned with their weight believe fattism should be treated in the same way as sexism and racism.
  • More than 60% of people concerned with their weight say they have been bullied, made fun of or discriminated against because of their size.
  • Nearly 80% of those taking part in the survey say weight is becoming more of an issue in today’s society and is 50% more of an issue in the workplace.
  • Nearly a quarter (23%) of respondents say their weight has held back or hindered their career opportunities.
  • Over a fifth (21%) say their weight leads to work colleagues and associates undervaluing their abilities.

Weight More of an Issue?

80% of all respondents stated they thought a person’s weight is becoming more of an issue in today’s society, and 50% more of an issue in the workplace. As one respondent wrote: “Fat jokes are seen to be an acceptable form of humour, still with cover comments such as 'no offence' etc”.

Employer’s Responsibility?

The survey also revealed that two thirds of people concerned with their weight believe employers have a responsibility to help them stay in shape.

“Enough is known about healthy eating to provide a good variety of healthy choices in the workplace environment, and large employers could work with sports and leisure facilities to organise lower priced gym membership in exchange for sponsorship etc”, suggested another participant.

Another wrote: “…enlightened employers should see it as encouraging a healthy workforce (leading to less illness, less absence and therefore more profits!)”.

Perhaps more surprisingly, nearly a quarter of those who took part in the survey said their weight had held back or hindered their careers. As one respondent commented: “My abilities are overshadowed by my weight.” And over a fifth said their weight leads to work colleagues and associates undervaluing their abilities: “People who are overweight or obese are not as highly regarded or have to work harder to achieve”.

Extent of Discrimination

Given the extent of fattism in society, and the effects it has on people concerned with their weight, it was no surprise to discover that more than half of all survey participants stated that they felt fattism should be treated in the same serious way as sexism and racism.

“It cannot be acceptable to be abusive to someone about their weight in the same way as you can’t be abusive about colour,” wrote one respondent.

These results demonstrate that fattism is unfortunately as real in today’s society as other forms of discrimination and bias.

They also show that people concerned with their weight are often treated as third class citizens despite the fact that the number of people overweight in the UK and USA is increasing.

The respondents also clearly feel employers and government have a role to play in encouraging and helping them lose weight and maintain a healthy body.

Fattism in the Workplace

Dietitian Juliette Kellow BSc RD recently discussed the problem of fattism in the workplace in the WLR article ‘Fattist Employers Need to Work Things Out’ based on research undertaken by the website Personnel Today.

Shockingly Personnel Today found that obese people are discriminated against when applying for jobs, are passed over for promotion and are more likely to be made redundant than their thinner counterparts. Furthermore, HR professionals would choose a ‘normal’ weight applicant over an obese applicant and 10% thought they could dismiss an employee simply because of their size – in clear contravention of employment law.

Discrimination in today’s Society

The widespread level of weight discrimination in today’s society prompted many people taking part in the WLR survey to express their strongly held views:

“No one wants to address the serious health concerns of having such a wide scale obesity problem because it overlaps with emotional issues that make people uncomfortable. We have to stop making it so emotional.”

Another wrote: “We are filled with media portrayals of the ‘perfect body’ which is normally 15% under normal Body Weight. Then we are given images of fast food etc.”

And another wrote: “A little sensitivity to peoples’ attempts (to diet) wouldn't go amiss: we frequently have catered lunch meetings (for which we have to miss our normal lunch break) and the catering is always lardy fingerfood - healthy food really isn't THAT difficult to provide!

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