Obese Feel More Discrimination

Even though Americans are fatter than ever, we’re actually less tolerant of fat people. So say fat people.

Obese Feel More Discrimination Karen Kasmauski / Corbis Led by Tatiana Andreyeva, a postdoctoral research associate at Yale’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, a team of researchers questioned 1,100 subjects, aged 35 to 74, twice over a 10-year span (once between 1995 and 1996, and again between 2004 and 2006). The respondents answered 11 questions about whether they had been discriminated against in the context of common life experiences — including applying to college or for a scholarship, renting or buying a home in a neighborhood they desired, applying for a bank loan or dealing with police. Participants answered nine additional questions about everyday experiences, such as how they were treated in restaurants, and whether they had encountered name-calling, harassment or threats. The subjects were asked to indicate the reasons they felt they had been discriminated against (facing police harassment, for example, or being denied bank loans), whether it was because of age, gender, race, height or weight, physical disability, sexual orientation or religion. Between the two survey periods, the rate of discrimination due to height or weight increased from 7% of respondents to 12% of respondents. (The scientists determined separately that the people who reported discrimination due to height or weight were also more likely than other participants to be overweight or obese.)

The study is one of the first to track patterns of discrimination based on weight. It’s worth noting, however, that the survey relied on people’s own perception of discrimination — the authors did not require the subjects to document bias in any way. In addition, the authors found that rates of discrimination by age and gender also increased in the same time period, suggesting that several forms of bias — or perhaps sensitivity to perceived bias — is on the rise overall, not just against the overweight. Nevertheless, the study did track the same population over time, and Andreyeva says that an increase even in people’s perceived sense of maltreatment is an important measure of our society’s attitudes. In this report, weight ranked third behind age and race as the most common form of prejudice. “If a person perceives he is being discriminated against,” Andreyeva says, “it might have significant consequences for his or her health and mental health. Even the perception of discrimination can be important because it is self-perpetuating.” And if rates of weight discrimination are indeed on the rise, say the authors, then it’s up to society to mandate legal protections for those who are overweight, just as laws protect people from discrimination by race, gender, disability and age.

So . . . 12% of people feel that they’ve been discriminated against, at least once in their life, on the basis of weight or height. They’re no proof whatsoever of this, other than their self-perception. In response, we should create yet another protected class?

We live, ironically enough, in a society that is increasingly more conscious of appearances and physical fitness (witness the explosion of magazines and television programs on these subjects) yet simultaneously in ever worse shape. We’ve got a ton of morbidly obese people out there (pun unintentional, but I like it). Probably some significant percentage of them have heard snide remarks directed at them.

As Barack Obama might say, it’s not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to antipathy to people who aren’t like them or claim anti-fat sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations. But so what? At what point do we draw the line at legislating against hurt feelings?

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. SeniorD says:

    Of course grossly over weight people feel discrimination. Look at all the dietary supplements, fat burning, weight loss commercials populate television. Let’s not even go to the various television shows and movies that feature slim, buff actors/actresses doing all sorts of incredible things while wearing the latest fashions.

    In actuality, the Gaia-worshiping horde would prefer the lumpen masses to be eating nuts and berries (always in moderation of course) while their clerical elites dine on fine food (and still overeat)

  2. I feel that airlines seats, and really the design of many public spaces in general are not adequately designed for my 6’2″+ height. I was recently at an event at a local multi-purpose venue and was convinced the seats were designed for gnomes.

    Does that count?

    It’s an anti-tall world, I tell you.

  3. Steve Plunk says:

    Those of us with thinning hair feel the pain as well. Especially from the opposite sex. That’s nearly fifty percent of the population treating us as if we are…bald.

    Is there any group who isn’t getting their feelings hurt?

  4. James Joyner says:

    I feel that airlines seats, and really the design of many public spaces in general are not adequately designed for my 6’2″+ height.

    Indeed. I’m a bit over 6’1″ and around 200 pounds and find airline seats incredibly tight. Ditto most public seating, such as at sporting events. Someone who is truly tall and/or seriously overweight has to be miserable.

  5. Bithead says:

    Don’t want to be a fat man,
    people would think that I was
    just good fun.
    Would rather be a thin man,
    I am so glad to go on being one.
    Too much to carry around with you,
    no chance of finding a woman who
    will love you in the morning and all the night time too.

    Don’t want to be a fat man,
    have not the patience to ignore all that.
    Hate to admit to myself half of my problems
    came from being fat.
    Won’t waste my time feeling sorry for him,
    I seen the other side to being thin.
    Roll us both down a mountain
    and I’m sure the fat man would win.

  6. davod says:

    self-perception? Doesn’t everyone remember the 80s catch phrase perception is reality.

  7. Paul Barnes says:

    What if you are tall AND overweight? I am 6’4″ 315 pounds, so there are many places I no longer go to (like amusement parks).

  8. jainphx says:

    There is only one cure for obesity, push away from the table. I speak from experience. I was way over weight, have now lost 90 lbs. It’s like alcoholism, you first have to admit to yourself that something has to be done.

  9. William d'Inger says:

    Having once been a 310 lb. porker, and having lost 100 of those pounds (and still counting) through severe dieting, I have a natural inclination to feel bias against the obese. I try to keep my attitude under control, but that’s even tougher than the diet.

  10. “There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28. Sad to say, this ancient truth is nowhere to be seen in the modern American business arena. What an interesting article on the discrimintion of obese people. Like sexual harassment, the true victims rarely report it while the abused suffer in silence. This is a problem. Huge Problem. In my book, Wingtips with Spurs, I devote a chapter to discrimination and how it is often over-looked or swept into a dark corner. And yes, it still exists in modern America. While we pour more stupid laws into the books to prevent such painful actions, we fail to fix the real problem, that is, the root. That problem is the pride and vainglory that has infected our society from Hollywood to Wall Street. In addition, we have been conditioned by lawyers to believe that legal and moral are the same thing. So sad.