Why do successful people like Al Roker and N.J. Gov. Chris Christie go through the ordeal of weight loss surgery? They do it because they want to increase their chances of success and popularity.
Weight stigma plays a role in everyday life including work, school and health care. It remains a socially acceptable form of prejudice in American society, and it is rarely challenged.
The alarming rates of obesity in our country have brought widespread attention to the medical consequences of obesity, but what about the social and personal obstacles overweight people face?
Bias, discrimination and stigma are common experiences for obese men, women and children.
The negative experiences for many overweight individuals have serious consequences for personal and social wellbeing and can have a profound and lifelong effect on self-esteem.
The causes of obesity might also perpetuate a negative stigma. For instance, many people assume that exercising more self-control can prevent obesity. Others explain failure at weight loss because of noncompliance or emotional problems.
Studies by the Obesity Action Coalition have shown that doctors and nurses often see obese patients as non-compliant, dishonest, lazy, weak-willed, overindulgent, unsuccessful and out of control.
Obese people often delay seeking quality health care because of embarrassment and bias. There is embarrassment about being weighed, wearing a too-small gown, narrow exam tables, too-small blood pressure cuffs, wheelchairs, beds and waiting room chairs.
Bias in school and employment is also a negative consequence of obesity. Negative perceptions of obese workers contribute to the employer’s hiring practices, wage inequities and terminations.
Bias in school settings present as harassment and rejection by peers, exclusions from fraternities and sororities, negative attitudes from teachers, administrators and college admission committees. Even preschool children (ages 3 to 5) have identified negative characteristics such as being mean, stupid, ugly and having few friends when asked about their obese peers.
Taken together, the consequences of being denied jobs, rejected by peers and being treated inappropriately at work or school can have a serious impact on a person’s quality of life.
Depression, anxiety, low self-esteem and poor body image are some of the negative outcomes of weight bias.
It is up to all of us to show more empathy for the overweight people in our society and not judge them so harshly.
Janet Meyer, MSW, LISW-CP, is an associate at Psychological and Counseling Associates of the Lowcountry in Bluffton.