Obesity Affects Personal Finances, Especially Among Women
Income is one factor in the obesity epidemic as those with less income tend to have greater body mass index, or BMI. Unfortunately, however, those who are obese are also facing another financial obstacle. There continues to be a wage gap between those who are of a healthy weight and those who are obese, especially among women.
Although Americans are getting heavier – about one-third of US adults are considered obese (BMI greater than 30) – public attitudes about being overweight are still quite judgmental and stigmatizing. While there are federal laws to protect against discrimination on the basis of race, gender and sexual orientation, there are none that protects the civil rights of an obese person.
One place where obesity discrimination continues is the workplace. Researchers with The George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services’ Department of Health Policy examined data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY79).
Obese Men and Women Paid Less for Same Job
While both men and women who were obese experienced reduced wages, the team found that the difference among women was more significant. In 2008, wages for obese females were $5,826 less than for those who were of normal weight. The study confirms findings from a previous study from Western Michigan University which found that morbidly obese women were paid about 75% of the wages paid to other women.
The Obesity Action Coalition Conducted a study among almost 2,300 American adults and found that almost 60% reported weight discrimination in their jobs, such as not being hired based on their weight, not being promoted to a position they would otherwise qualify for, or being fired unjustly.
For most, the higher the weight, the greater the discrimination. Ten percent of women who fell into the “overweight” category (BMI between 25 and 29.9) felt they were the target of weight discrimination, while 45% of very obese women (BMI greater than 40) felt this way.
According to research conducted in the late 1970’s, stereotypes can lead employers not to hire an obese person. They are seen as “less desirable employees who, compared with others, are less competent, less productive, not industrious, disorganized, indecisive, inactive and less successful.”
Employers may also cite a concern about healthcare costs when deciding whom to hire. Those who are obese tend to have co-morbid conditions that lead to greater medical costs. These medical conditions may also lead to reduced productivity and more absenteeism.
“This research broadens the growing body of evidence that shows that in addition to taxing health, obesity significantly affects personal finances,” said Christine Ferguson, JD, Professor in the Department of Health Policy. “It also reinforces how prevalent stigma is when it comes to weight-related health issues.”
Currently, only The Rehabilitation Act (1973) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (990) offer some protection against obesity discrimination, but in most cases, the claims are unsuccessful. Only Michigan has a state law against discrimination based on weight.
“Gender and Race Wage Gaps Attributable to Obesity” by Avi Dor PhD, Christine Ferguson JD, Ellen Tan PhDc, Lucas Divine, and Jo Palmer. November 17, 2011. The George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services.
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