Weight bias affects Canadians in all aspects of life

Overweight Canadians experience this at school, the workplace, doctors' offices, and more

The University of Alberta’s Dr. Ximena Ramos-Salas is stating something that’s no new news to anyone: weight bias, or obesity discrimination, is as big and bad as ever.

According to Dr. Ramos-Salas, children as early as three years old experience weight bias against their peers. This turns into bullying, with weight-based bullying being identified as the most common method of bullying among youths. This weight bias also translates to the school environment, where teachers actually put less faith in their students based on weight, compromising their education and thus their quality of life.

In 2014, 42 per cent of Canadians between ages 20 and 35 were reported to be overweight or obese. It’s crazy to think that when that population makes up the new workforce after older generations retire, nearly half of them will tend to be subjected to weight bias through loss of jobs, lower wages, and promotion losses due to their weight. The assumption that overweight or obese adults are not taking care of themselves and are automatically at a higher risk for health problems also translates to a general consensus that they “get what they deserve,” according to Dr. Ramos-Salas’ interview with Adam Brils on CBC Radio.

The same people dealing with obesity bias in the workplace are also facing the discrimination at doctors’ offices. Doctors uneducated on obesity issues turn away patients on the basis of “you need to lose weight,” sending them away without any feedback on how to do so. As a result, many obese and overweight people can have very harmful health conditions that can go untreated. The stigma in doctors’ offices only helps to solidify the opinions in workplaces that obese people are more prone to health problems and are therefore less reliable workers. While weight can increase the chances of certain health problems, it’s no reason for a perfectly good candidate for a job or promotion to miss out, simply because they are viewed as a health risk. Shouldn’t the job or promotion go to the most deserving candidate?

In her research, Dr. Ramos-Salas has reached out to policymakers to discuss the strategies that can be used to decrease the weight bias attitudes in Canada. One way to help remedy this was the suggestion to introduce policies against weight discrimination, making weight bias a protected area alongside other areas like race and sex. Another is educating children and adults alike on the biological and genetic reasons for obesity. I agree with both of these measures; much like with other issues, raising awareness can be half the battle.

Weight discrimination is a horrible part of how we live in today’s world. Make an effort; don’t assume someone is a lesser person because of their weight. Don’t add to the stigma.

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