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Discrimination Against Overweight People in the Workplace

Weigh In on Workplace Weight-Incentive Programs

My boyfriend came home yesterday with the news that his firm had announced a weight-loss incentive program. Though I read about company efforts to keep healthcare costs down daily, I was stunned. My guy's office is pretty small, and from what I've seen of his co-workers, no one's overweight. In fact, they're a pretty young company altogether, and from where I'm standing, probably not the most likely group of candidates to need this kind of "lose six-percent of your body weight" initiative.

What's more surprising is that, as it turns out, weight may not just be a healthcare issue. For the past couple of years, employers concerned with growing healthcare costs have fueled weight-loss initiatives, like the one at Whole Foods, for instance. But, there's more than economics at stake. As scientists begin to study the link between weight and work, they're finding that obesity affects job applicants too — it can keep them from getting hired, promoted, and making as much as their slimmer co-workers. "Our research shows that weight discrimination has increased by 66 percent over the past decade," says Rebecca Puhl, the Director of Weight Stigma Initiatives at The Obesity Society. This might make sense for jobs where physical fitness is a requirement, but across numerous career fields there is noticeable "job absenteeism among the obese."

Find out how weight-incentive programs are affecting the office and the obese when you read more.

So, what's the problem with weight-incentive programs at work? Nothing really. They help employees get healthy and promote and reward a balanced, fit lifestyle at the office, especially since evidence shows that some of these programs are really working. But, instituting programs like this at the office can make it harder for overweight hires to break in. Is there a place for someone who's bigger at a firm where everyone's already fit? Is this the next frontier in weight-loss prevention and treatment, or is this helping to perpetuate discrimination against the obese in the workplace?

Join The Conversation
Bettye-Wayne Bettye-Wayne 7 years
Stupid anonymous commentators... you obviously missed this part of my comment: "It's not a fair way of thinking, but business isn't about being fair." I'm saying it's right, I'm just telling you how the world sees it, obviously you agree with me in some part if you feel like you've been discriminated against. "Just because I have a problem controlling what I eat plays in no way to my ability to work." You need help. There are over-eater support groups out there, and they are free. "Of course there are diet and exercise programs out there, but how to you expect me to join them if I can't find a job??" Sit-ups in your living room are free. Jogging/walking are free. You are making your own hell by disrespecting your body. I have no sympathy for you.
Bettye-Wayne Bettye-Wayne 7 years
If anything, this is discrimination against healthy-weight people. What reward do they get for maintaining a healthy weight? What about the under-weight and sedentary? Just because you're not fat, doesn't mean you're healthy. People gain weight by either over-eating or under-exercising (or medical problem, but that's a minority). Millions of people have turned their lives around with diet and exercise; I have little sympathy for someone who has that opportunity and doesn't take it. I think it makes the company look bad too. If your employees can't take care of their bodies, how are they supposed to take care of business? It's not a fair way of thinking, but business isn't about being fair. It's about making money. What's disturbing is that overweight people are fighting 'fatism' more successfully than minorities are fighting racism, or women are fighting sexism.
Spectra Spectra 7 years
I used to work at a company that had a "Biggest Loser" competition where you could get neat incentives if you lost 5, 10, 15 lbs, etc. I couldn't really participate in the program without getting underweight, so I felt sort of left out. I think it would have been better if they had offered something different, like a cash bonus for you if you had healthy lab work and had a normal BMI/% body fat.
ShaynaLeah ShaynaLeah 7 years
As a former fat girl I can tell you that this is nothing new --- I was told that "80% of the company's costs come from 20% of the employees" at a fitness kick-off... ironically likely attended by the other 80%. Since I went from a size 18 to a 4 I can tell you that the respect and general regard from my colleagues/supervisor/etc. is greatly increased. I enjoy it and loathe it at the same time, since it has nothing to do with the quality of my work - which was and remains stellar. There is an image of fat people as being lazy - after all, exercise is the ultimate "hard work" and "hard work" is the anathema of lazy... I've heard that this attitude stems from the Depression when resources like meat, butter, etc., were scarce, so fat people were seen as taking more than their share - i.e. being selfish... (Yes, I feel strongly about this! You can find me at talking about other body image issues like this)
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