Yesterday in Toronto, doctors, public health policymakers, government representatives, educators and activists gathered for Canada’s first ever conference on weight discrimination. The First Annual Canadian Conference on Weight Bias and Discrimination calls it “the last socially acceptable form of discrimination,” which I do not agree with in the slightest – there are many remaining socially acceptable forms of discrimination – but I do agree that weight-based discrimination is a serious problem, and not just in Canada.
Overweight and obese people are discriminated against in myriad ways, the most notable being in employment and in healthcare. There is no legal statute in Canada that prohibits discrimination based on weight, and as far as I know, there isn’t one in the US, either.
Dr. Arya Sharma, scientific director of the Canadian Obesity Network, says that health professionals regularly discriminate against obese patients. She told the Vancouver Sun:
You have a patient who goes to see the orthopedic surgeon and says, ‘I need help with my hips or knees’ and all they hear is, ‘Go lose 100 pounds and maybe we’ll talk again.’ You have this completely unprofessional behaviour because there is no way that someone who is in constant pain is in any way going to be able to lose that amount of weight, let alone that there is almost no evidence in the literature that shows that it would have a huge impact on the outcome of surgery.
Rebecca Puhl is director of research at the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University and was a speaker at the conference. In a recent survey by Puhl, 65% of American men and 81% of American women supported making weight-based discrimination illegal, particularly in the workplace.
Despite this, weight-based discrimination is common in the workplace, Puhl says. Obese people are less likely to be hired that non-obese people, even when they have identical resumes, according to Puhl’s research. And when they are hired, they’re paid less, receive harsher discipline, are more less likely to be promoted and more likely to be unfairly terminated.
The conference was to end with recommendations, collected during the event by an advisory committee, on how to change negative attitudes about overweight people. I look forward to reading what they came up with.