Is weight discrimination the new racism?

They may not be forced to sit in the back of the bus just yet, but overweight people may be America’s newest discriminated group.

A 2008 study from Yale University revealed that overweight and obese people feel more discriminated against than they did 10 years ago.

The research team led by Tatiana Andreyeva, a postdoctoral research associate at Yale’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, surveyed 1,100 subjects aged 35-74 twice over a 10-year period.

The subjects answered questions about whether they had been discriminated against in the context of common life experiences. Respondents also answered questions about every day experiences such as how they were treated in restaurants and whether they had encountered name-calling, harassment or threats.

Participants were asked to indicate the reasons they had felt discriminated against, and between the two survey periods, the rate of discrimination due to height or weight increased from 7 percent of respondents to 12 percent.

In the report, weight ranked third behind age and race as the most common forms of prejudice.

The study revealed that weight discrimination in the workplace as well as interpersonal mistreatment is common. Also, women are twice as likely as men to report weight discrimination.

Ferris psychology professor Dr. Christopher Redker believes weight discrimination, in both overt and subtle forms, may exceed racial and gender discrimination.

“Research has indicated that overweight individuals seem to face much more difficulty in forming relationships or even securing employment,” he said. “Researchers have found that they [overweight people] marry less often, gain entry to less-desirable jobs and make less money.”

According to Redker, research has noted that overweight people are consistently perceived as less attractive, less intelligent and less successful. He said negative public attitudes toward overweight people may explain why they infrequently become heads of large corporations or get elected to public office.

Ferris freshman *Linda has struggled with her weight since her teen years and is currently trying to lose weight she gained during her pregnancy. At her heaviest, Linda, who is 5’6’’, weighed in at 250 pounds.

“When I was 25 or 26, everything clicked, and I got fit. I was thin,” she said. “As soon as I lost the weight, the whole world opened up. I was able to be friends with people who never would have to talked to me when I was overweight. Guys wanted to date me.”

According to Linda, people don’t take her seriously because she is overweight. When she was fit, Linda said she had never been to an interview and not offered the job. Now that she’s overweight, she said she can’t even get an interview.

“People just see the outside and don’t even want to see the inside,” she said. “All people see is the weight. I have to struggle to even make friends.”

Linda said the main reason she wants to lose weight is so she can set a healthy example for her 17-month-old daughter, but she admits another reason is so people will stop treating her differently.

Ferris junior *Seth’s battle with weight started early on as well. He recalled being teased by his sisters when he was growing up for being “fat.”

“It [the teasing] didn’t bother me, but it did bother me,” he said. “They would yell in my ear, ‘Oh, you’re so fat!’ and I’d have nightmares of them yelling at me. I was always self-conscious.”

In high school, Seth, who stands at 6’3’’, was between 250-260 pounds. Participating in sports and regular exercise helped to keep his weight at bay. However, near the end of his freshman year of college, he weighed in at his absolute heaviest—315 pounds.

“Everybody would make fun of you for being fat,” he said. “But the biggest thing for me was girls. They would never make fun of you for being fat, but you knew that you could never date that girl because you were fat. She wouldn’t want someone who was out of shape.”

In the spring of his sophomore year, Seth, who was dealing with health issues, decided to lose weight.

“Every time I looked in the mirror I hated myself,” he said. “I hated my appearance. Who wants to be fat?”

Through diet, exercise and willpower, Seth was able to lose a substantial amount of weight and couldn’t help but notice the difference in the way people treated him.

“The biggest thing I noticed was how girls at the bar treated me,” he said. “They looked at me totally differently. When I was fat, they wouldn’t give me the time of day. When I was skinny, it was a whole new me. Girls wanted to talk to me and flirt with me.”

Despite having been overweight himself, Seth admits to discriminating against overweight people. He doesn’t think society will change its attitude toward overweight people.

“Humans are known for being judgmental,” he said. “Everyone wants to be better than someone else. That’s the pyramid. All the fit, wealthy people are at the top looking down at all the fat, lazy people.”

Redker said an end to weight discrimination will require motivation to avoid prejudice.

“A lot of prejudice is automatic in nature,” Redker said. “When an individual finds him or herself automatically reacting with negative feelings or stereotypes, it’s the awareness of this that matters. The individual can either let those responses guide their behavior or he/she can attempt to monitor and alter their behavior going forward.”

Linda said she is disappointed with America’s choice to judge with its eyes and not with its heart, and believes society will be better as a whole if it could get past this way of thinking.

“You’re missing out,” Linda said. “If you’re discriminating against me, you’re probably discriminating against some of the best people you could have in your life.” n

*Names of students were changed to protect their identity.