Health — 23 August 2012

Over half of obese Americans feel they have been discriminated against when applying for a job or promotion, according to a new poll by Harris Interactive. Many also feel they have been socially shunned or discriminated against when being seated in public places, such as a theater or restaurant.

Much of the discrimination appears to be socially acceptable to most Americans. According to the poll, 61% do not consider negative remarks about a person’s weight to be offensive.

“The obesity epidemic is not just a huge health-care issue, it is also a social issue with many people — especially those who are morbidly obese — feeling that they have been stigmatized, treated unfairly, or discriminated against because of their weight,” said Humphrey Taylor, chairman of The Harris Poll.  “This is not surprising when many people do not believe that it is very offensive to make critical remarks about people’s weight or for employers to use weight as a factor when deciding whom to hire.”

In the survey of nearly 2,300 adult Americans, 52% of those who fell into the “obese” or “morbidly obese” categories believe they have been discriminated against in the workplace.

The proportion of people who felt stigmatized because of their weight rose with the level of their obesity. Almost one in 10 overweight people said they believe their weight may have cost them a job or promotion, while 17% of the obese and 35% of the morbidly obese felt that way.

Excess weight also takes a toll on social lives. For example, 22% of the morbidly obese said they felt left out of social gatherings because of their weight, and a similar number said they had felt discriminated against while being seated at a theater or restaurant, or on a bus, train or plane.

Asked if a critical remark during a social event would be offensive, 61% said they would be offended by a racial remark and 41% would be offended by a remark about sexually orientation. Only 39% said they would be offended by a remark about someone being overweight.

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Pat Anson, Editor

Pat is Editor in Chief of American News Report. He is a veteran journalist and a former correspondent and producer for HealthWeek (PBS), Nightly Business Report (PBS) and other nationally syndicated shows. Pat has won numerous journalism awards, including a Golden Mike award for investigative reporting.

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