A pretty interesting article in the Star Tribune about workplace discrimination against fat people.
Roehling has interviewed dozens of heavy people about their job-hunting experiences. One woman told him that she sat at a job interview and watched in horror as her interviewer wrote in big letters across the top of her résumé: “TOO FAT.”
Discrimination is especially acute in workplaces where a premium is placed on personal appearance, such as executive-level positions, sales, public relations and other areas where client contact is key, said Mary Story, a University of Minnesota professor who studies obesity.
In a 1990 study of several hundred people by University of Vermont professor Esther Rothblum, the heaviest were most likely to report they’d been denied benefits including health insurance because of their size. Many said they had been fired or threatened with dismissal for weight reasons.
Women suffer the greatest unfairness, she said. “They don’t have to weigh very much for employment discrimination to kick in.”
Rothblum once showed a set of identical résumés to a group of students. Half the résumés stated that the fictitious female job seeker was 120 pounds. The other half put her weight at 180 pounds. She asked the students to rate the woman’s professional competence and suggest her appropriate salary range.
The 180-pound woman scored dramatically lower. “The amazing thing about that experiment,” Rothblum said, “is that, actually, 180 pounds is not that heavy. Imagine what larger people experience. I think fat people underestimate how much of their daily encounters are different because of their weight.”
The article also attempts to justify the discrimination by pointing to a RAND study which found that obese people spend more on health care than smokers or chronic drinkers, leading to higher health care costs of hiring obese workers. From what I can tell, the Rand study in question is pretty flawed.
- The study doesn’t account for ways in which obesity might be an effect of, rather than a cause of, chronic health conditions. Many health conditions can lead to large weight gains, either directly, as a side effect of medication, or through decreased exercise. It’s incorrect to count these instances as cases in which obesity causes disease, but that’s what the RAND study does.
- Due to massive discrimination against fat people, it wouldn’t surprise me if obese people were more likely to seek treatment for depression. But if so, the cause may be prejudice against fat people, and not fatness itself.
- Obese people are extremely likely to see doctors and take medications as part of weight-loss plans. This shouldn’t be counted as equivalent to the way smokers are more likely to need cancer treatments – but that’s what the RAND study does.