Approximately 40% of American adults report having been stigmatized or discriminated against because of their body weight. Despite this high rate, there are no federal laws prohibiting weight discrimination and only the state of Michigan enacted a weight discrimination law. But the court of public opinion may change that. According to survey findings presented at the 39th Annual Meeting of The Obesity Society (TOS) at ObesityWeek® 2021, there is growing support for public policy prohibiting weight discrimination.

In particular, strong support was found for improving antibullying policies in schools to better protect youth from being bullied about their weight and for passing laws that would make it illegal for employers to discriminate against employees because of their weight, explained lead study author Rebecca Puhl, PhD, who is deputy director at the UConn Rudd Center for Food Policy and Health.

Policy Changes Needed

Key findings from this survey of nearly 14,000 adults enrolled in an international weight-management program who lived in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, the UK, and the US were presented at the conference and published in Obesity (Table).


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Table. Support for Public Policy to Address Weight Stigma Among Patients from 6 Countries Enrolled in a Weight-Loss Program (N=13,996)

• 92% of participants supported strengthening school-based anti-bullying policies
• 90% supported improving antibullying laws to better protect youth from weight-based bullying
• 79% supported policy that would make it illegal for employers to refuse to hire people because of their weight
• 61% supported laws to prohibit weight discrimination in employment
• 57% supported laws that would add bodyweight as a protected category in existing human rights legislation
Source: Puhl et al.

“Across the 6 countries we studied, people view policy as an appropriate remedy to address societal weight-based mistreatment,” said Dr Puhl. “Although legal systems vary from country to country, our findings offer a starting point for cross-country consensus building among policymakers and the sharing of knowledge and experience in antidiscrimination initiatives, which are typically siloed (or absent) within individual countries.”

Dr Puhl’s study was funded by WW (formerly Weight Watchers) and several of the coauthors report affiliations with WW.

Sources

Puhl RM, Lessard LM, Pearl RL, Grupski A, Foster GD. Policies to address weight discrimination and bullying: Perspectives of adults engaged in weight management from six nations. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2021;29(11):1787-1798. doi:10.1002/oby.23275

UConn Rudd Center for Food Policy and Health. International support for policies to address weight-based bullying & discrimination. News Release. November 4, 2021. Accessed November 9, 2021. https://media.ruddcenter.uconn.edu/PDFs/TOS%20Press%20Release.pdf