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Say ‘No’ To Weight-Based Bullying and Discrimination

Yesterday, the Canadian Obesity Network hosted the First Canadian Summit on Weight Bias and Discrimination. Judging by the tremendous media interest in this summit (which was completely sold out), it seems that this topic has struck a nerve.

In the many media interviews that were given by panelists and myself, it appears that there was a particular interest in weight-based bullying and discrimination at the workplace.

This is one of the issues addressed in a very useful policy brief published by the Rudd Centre for Food Policy and Obesity titled, “Weight Bias – a Social Justice Issue“.

With regard to obesity and employment, the document points out that compared to job applicants with the same qualifications, obese applicants are rated more negatively and are less likely to be hired.

Obese applicants are also perceived to be unfit for jobs involving face-to-face interactions.

In addition, overweight and obese applicants are viewed as having

■ poor self-discipline;
■ low supervisory potential;
■ poor personal hygiene;
■ less ambition and productivity.

Apart from not being hired because of their excess weight, obese employees are offered lower wages, are less likely to be promoted, and are often the first to be fired irrespective of their actual job performance.

Other examples of discrimination in the work setting include:

■ becoming the target of derogatory comments and jokes by employers and coworkers;
■ being fired for failure to lose weight;
■ being penalized for weight, through company benefits programs.

As blogged before, this issue is not just important because of the economic consequences but also has some very real psychological and physiological implications for the victims of such decisions and behaviours.

A detailed conference report, Council recommendations, and videos of the presentations will be posted on the website of the Canadian Obesity Network in the next couple of days.

In the meantime, I’d certainly love to hear from my readers about any weight-based discrimination that they have experienced or witnessed and any suggestions anyone may have on how best to address this issue.

Toronto, Ontario

Videos of the presentations at the Weight Bias Summit are available here


  1. Back in the days I was overweight, I remember going to a job interview in a swish media company, where everyone from the receptionist to the senior personnel were thin. The guy who came to interview me took one look at me and I could tell he went “no” straight away. He practically recoiled. I had to sit through a miserable interview, where we both knew I was never going to get the job.

    Compare that to when I lost a lot of weight – thanks to Stage IV cancer. Even with no eyebrows or eye lashes, and with a waxy complexion, I was repeatedly complimented on how good I was looking “these days”.

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  2. Although I was told I was very competent I was removed as a high school department head because of my weight. I didn’t look processional enough. Instead I was replaced with my student teacher who had never taught the courses but had earrings and tattoos. This principal had done this to 3 other over weight teachers; I tried to look them up but one gave up and quit and the other two had died.

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  3. Sitting for hours in front of a laptop has its toll. My waist size has gone up from 28 to 40 without me noticing. I learnt SAP and just like my salary, my waist bulged. I would do anything to get this load off and get back to shape. But I never find time to work out.

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  4. My experience as a moderately obese, BMI 31, woman of middle age in the work place is that as long as you keep your behavior within the expected norms i.e. always appear to be dieting, trying to lose weight, agreeing that being overweight is bad and feel bad about yourself, then you are accepted. However, if you reject that approach and accept yourself, dress in an attractive manner, and ignore talk of diets and weight loss, then the negetive social pressure starts. Interestingly, the worst perpetrators are other women in my peer group.

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  5. I should add, of course I want to lose weight. I just refuse to discuss it at work anymore and am not willing to take any more “well meaning” advice from colleagues.

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  6. I have been overweight since I was 10 years old and have been the subject of bullying, criticism and discrimination since then. Rude comments were regularly made directly to me or loud enough for me to hear. This was very hurtful and my self esteem and self confidence has suffered greatly because of it. I recently lost 40 lbs. and have noticed a change in people’s attitude towards me already (men opening doors for me and looking me in the eyes and smiling for example). I still have approx. 60 lbs. to go and am working hard towards it. I appreciate the effort to try and stop discrimination towards those who are overweight but I am very skeptical that it will ever happen. It is similar to racism. There has been a big change in people’s attitude but no matter what is done there will always be racism on some level. I feel that if people are educated on some of the other causes of obesity (eg. rape, anxiety, medical reasons etc.) they might eventually be more tolerant instead of thinking that we are just a bunch of lazy slobs and have never tried to lose weight.

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  7. First I’d like to say that I am an obese person, currently on the journey to getting myself into the outside person I’d like to be. I have been overweight slightly since I was 17. I am a supervisor at an animal shelter, and I’m in my late 20’s. I interview people for jobs on a regular basis, and I can honestly and somewhat regretable say that when I interview an overweight person, I am skeptical as to whether they can do the job effeciently and fast enough. Our job is a very physical one, but I always give people the benefit of the doubt and have them come in for one shift before accepting them or they accepting the job, so they can see how physical the job is (I do this for thin people too) I have one large person volunteering for this job once a week, and the rest of my staff are all on the small side. I don’t think the volunteer could handle more than once a week. I have yet to hire an over weight person that can last as long on the job as the rest of my people but if I had someone that said they enjoyed the job and could handle it, I would not hesitate to hire them!

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  8. Of course, not a single particular individual being viewed with disgust by one of these bigoted jerks could possibly actually have a medical problem; the jerks do have great sympathy for those two or three fat people in the world who do have a medical problem, though.

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  9. For a good idea of some of the problems that fat people (women in particular) face when they seek medical care, visit the “First, Do No Harm” blog.

    This story in particular is heart-breaking:

    I have my own story about being refused birth control when I sought it as a young married woman — the nurse looked at me and angrily told me to go to Overeaters Anonymous — even though becoming pregnant would have been far riskier than receiving birth control. Although I now weigh about 40 pounds less than I did then (about 20 years later), it still makes me feel angry and sad, and I’m always tense when I have to see a new medical provider, unsure how I will be treated.

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  10. Dr. Sharma,

    I suspect that you are already well aware of the following review published in 2009 by Puhl and Heuer in Obesity journal. I wanted to link to it here for others who may be interested.

    The Stigma of Obesity: A Review and Update
    by Rebecca M. Puhl and Chelsea A. Heuer
    Obesity (2009) doi:10.1038/oby.2008.636


    This 2009 report is a comprehensive and systematic review of more than 200 scientific studies over the previous 8 years looking at the extent and role that stigma impacts obese adults. This review is very readable by non-professionals.

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