Academic journal article International Journal of Psychology and Psychological Therapy

The Effect of Work Discrimination on the Well-Being of Obese People

Academic journal article International Journal of Psychology and Psychological Therapy

The Effect of Work Discrimination on the Well-Being of Obese People

Article excerpt

Obesity is a medical condition in which excess body fat produces a negative effect on health, reduces life expectancy and increases the likelihood of several illnesses, among others, heart disease, breathing difficulties during sleep, type 2 diabetes, certain types of cancer and osteoarthritis (see Haslam & James, 2005; World Health Organization, 2000). But besides the medical problems, overweight or obese people usually face enormous difficulties in some social areas. Several studies prove that being fat generates rejection and discrimination problems in healthcare settings (see for example Hebl & Xu, 2001), in the school (see Hayde-Wade, Stein, Ghaderi, Saelens, Zabinski, & Wilfley, 2005) or in interpersonal relationships (Falkner, Neumark-Sztainer, Story, Jeffery, Beuhring, & Resnick, 2001), although in this paper we will just focus in rejection in the work area. According to the reviewed literature the fact of being obese it is not only a health risk but also a big trouble maker in everyday life. For example, to illustrate this idea, one study shows that people tend to rent fewer apartments to obese people (Karris, 1977). This author found that it was more likely to find an apartment to rent with a normal weight, because people with higher weights were rejected more often when they were trying to rent a flat. In this paper we will try to answer the next question: how can the discrimination that obese people suffer at work affect their well-being?

Several papers show that obese people face discrimination in the workplace, as we will see in the next paragraphs. The review by Roehling (1999) shows that there is a stereotype of this group (people consider the obese as lazy and less competent), which produces a negative impact on several areas, such as: 1) Lower status jobs; 2) Problems with co-workers; 3) Low wages; 4) Higher rate of unemployment; and 5) Biases in hiring.

Firt of all, we will focus on lower status jobs. Ball, Mishra, and Crawford (2002) in a study of more than 8,000 Australian participants found that being obese is associated with worse jobs. The results of this study show that women with the worst jobs were 1.4% more likely to have a higher Body Mass Index (BMI) than women with proper jobs. In this line Schulte, Wagner, Ostry, et al., (2007) found that obese people have more probabilities to have very demanding and challenging jobs, to work more hours, and to work in positions in which employees feel they have little control over their own job.

In second place, Roehling (1999) indicated that obese people have problems with their own colleagues. Carr and Friedman (2005) found in a sample of over 3,000 USA participants, that obese type II and III (BMI above 30 and 35 respectively) had more employment discrimination complaints than normal weight people. Another example of the difficulties that obese people have to face is illustrated by the work of Roehling, Roehling and Pichler (2007) conducted with 2,838 USA participants. The results of this study showed that overweight people had 12 times more employment discrimination complaints than people with normal weights and that discrimination in obese people was 37 times higher. In cases of extreme obesity (types III and IV) cases of discrimination in employment were 100 times higher than in people of normal weight.

In third place, obese people earn less money than normal weight people. One of the first studies showing how being overweight is related to salary was carried out by Drenick (quoted in Allon, 1982). This author, a physician specialized in obesity, found that when their patients lose weight trough surgery, the likelihood that their salary would get better increased in a 56%. Another example of this association can be found in Loh (1993). In this study, with 2,000 USA participants (>18 years old) during 1983-1985, it was found that obese people were paid 6% less. This result is very important because these authors statistically controlled variables such as level of education or work experience. …

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