Does your weight stand between you and the next job? Obesity and job discrimination

Worldwide studies of the relationship between body weight and job have linked the excess weight or obesity to lower chances to find a new job.  More than this, the outcomes of these studies have shown that women are marginalized more than men when it comes about body weight and getting employed.


Despite an impressive resume, a lot of employers reject obese applicants based on the misconception that they are fat, lazy and unproductive.

For example, in an Australian study, a group of 95 reviewers acting as employers were asked to select for some potential jobs the most fitted people (women) based on their resume that had an attached photo. The resumes presented equivalent skills, experience and education for each person. The pictures clipped to the resumes were of the same six women before and after weight loss surgery. The study results showed that obese women received more negative responses on leadership potential, predicted success, likelihood to select, salary, total employment rating and rank order of preference relative to other candidates. obesity and job discrimination

Another study from Iceland, based on 1,062 male and female questionnaires, pieced through more variables which usually are influencing the chances of getting employed, such as education, nutrition, gender, age, health habits and marital status.  The body mass index (BMI) was another piece of information listed between the employment criteria. The conclusion of the research was that the probability of being employed drops as body weight and BMI rise among both sexes, but the findings were more common for women. The authors of this study hypothesize that hiring discrimination, “productivity differences between obese and non-obese women” and incentives to participate in a given job may help explain the findings.

Trying to justify this type of outcomes, researcher Janet Latner, a Professor of the Department of Psychology at the University of Hawaii believes that employers tend to embrace obesity discrimination most probably based on controllability theory, suggesting that the most stigmatized conditions are those that are widely perceived as controllable. Most often, the obesity is not seen as a medical, physiologic condition, but most likely as a visit card or recommendation of a person’s character and state of will.

Another reason why the job seekers with extra pounds are the victims of employment discrimination is that the medical costs with an overweight worker are higher than for those with a normal BMI. According to a Duke University Medical Center Study, obese employees had seven times the medical costs and had 13 times as much sick time off work compared to other employees.

Weight-based discrimination is common in the labor-market from hiring to firing and in every other aspect of employment, including salaries and promotions. But it is obvious that employers who overcome their weight prejudice and start hiring and promoting the most qualified workers will have access to a lot of talented and skillful employees who are now discriminated because of unfounded prejudice and false stereotypes.

Key: weight-based discrimination, labor-market, fat, lazy, unproductive, employment discrimination, obese employees, overweight,

  • International Journal of Obesity- Obesity discrimination: the role of physical appearance, personal ideology, and anti-fat prejudice- K S O’Brien, J D Latner, D Ebneter and J A Hunter;

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