Weight Bias and Discrimination, April 2010

Weight Bias and Discrimination, April 2010


There is substantial evidence of clear and consistent bias, stigmatization, and discrimination against obese children and adults. The Obesity Society (TOS) strongly opposes any form of weight bias or discrimination, and is committed to increasing public awareness about weight bias and its negative consequences.


Several decades of research have documented consistent and pervasive stigmatization of obese individuals in multiple domains of living. Obese individuals are vulnerable to weight-based stigma and discrimination in educational institutions, the workplace, healthcare facilities, the media, and even in interpersonal relationships with family and friends.1-3

With two-thirds of Americans overweight or obese, vast numbers of children and adults are potentially affected by weight bias. The prevalence of weight discrimination in the United States has increased by 66% in the past decade, and is now on par with rates of racial discrimination.4-5 Unfortunately, there are no federal laws, and only one state law (Michigan), that prohibit weight discrimination. Thus, obese individuals are left to cope with prejudice and unfair treatment on their own, with no options for legal recourse.

Weight bias and stigmatization lead to considerable suffering and impaired quality of life for those who are affected. Children and adults who experience weight bias are at increased risk for negative psychological outcomes (such as depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, poor body image, social isolation, peer rejection, suicidal ideation), and adverse health consequences (including maladaptive eating patterns, binge-eating behaviors, avoidance of physical activity, and poorer weight-loss treatment outcomes). 6-9 Many of these consequences can also place obese persons at risk for additional weight gain. Weight bias also contributes to poorer educational outcomes, school absences, lower wages, fewer job offers, less promotions, and job termination for thousands of well-qualified obese workers. Thus, weight bias adversely affects emotional, social, economic and physical well-being.

The Obesity Society unequivocally opposes weight discrimination and stigma. Weight bias is a social justice issue and a public health problem. This issue must be addressed on multiple levels, including the individual, family, community, and larger society. Reducing weight bias in our society will require efforts from a range of disciplines, including medicine, law, psychology, media, and education. 2


As a leading scientific organization on obesity, TOS is committed to increasing public awareness about weight bias and its negative consequences. As part of this objective, TOS created a Task Force on Weight Bias in 2004 to help combat weight bias and discrimination through scientific research, training, and advocacy. In ongoing efforts of the organization to address weight bias and discrimination, TOS recommends the following:

  • Increased education and public awareness about issues related to body size and the negative effects of weight bias.
  • Accurate reporting and coverage about obesity-related topics in the media.
  • Avoidance of stigmatizing and pejorative portrayals of overweight and obese persons in the media.
  • Systematic outreach efforts to educate and reduce weight bias among healthcare professionals, students, educators, employers, families, and the media.
  • Greater research funding to test stigma-reduction interventions and to assess the ways in which weight bias can adversely affect morbidity and mortality of obese persons.
  • Promotion of healthcare rights for obese persons.
  • Development and implementation of policy and legal approaches to help eliminate discrimination against persons with obesity.


The Obesity Society is the leading scientific society dedicated to the study of obesity. The Obesity Society is committed to encouraging research on the causes, treatment, and prevention of obesity as well as to keeping the scientific community and public informed of new advances in the field. For more information, please visit www.obesity.org.


  1. Brownell KD, Puhl RM, Schwartz MB, Rudd L, editors. Weight Bias: Nature, Consequences, and Remedies. New York: The Guilford Press; 2005.
  2. Puhl RM, & Heuer CA. The stigma of obesity: A review and update. Obesity 2009; 17: 941-964.
  3. Puhl RM, Latner JD. Stigma, obesity, and the health of the nation's children. Psychological Bulletin 2007;133:557-580.
  4. Andreyeva T, Puhl RM, Brownell KD. Changes in perceived weight discrimination among Americans: 1995-1996 through 2004-2006. Obesity 2008; 16: 1129-1134.
  5. Puhl RM, Andreyeva T, Brownell KD. Perceptions of weight discrimination: Prevalence and comparison to race and gender discrimination in America. International Journal of Obesity 2008;32:992-1000.
  6. Ashmore JA, Friedman KE, Reichmann SK, Musante GJ. Weight-based stigmatization, psychological distress, & binge eating behavior among obese treatment-seeking adults. Eating Behaviors 2008;9:203-209.
  7. Haines J, Neumark-Sztainer D, Eisenberg ME, Hannan PJ. Weight teasing and disordered eating behaviors in adolescents: Longitudinal findings from Project EAT (Eating Among Teens). Pediatrics 2006;117:209-215.
  8. Storch EA, Milsom VA, DeBraganza N, Lewin AB, Geffken GR, Silverstein JH. Peer victimization, psychosocial adjustment, and physical activity in overweight and at-risk-for-overweight youth. Journal of Pediatric Psychology 2007;32:80-89.
  9. Carels RA, Young KM, Wott CB, et al. Weight bias and weight loss treatment outcomes in treatment-seeking adults. Ann Behav Med. 2009;37(3):350–355.