The study, led by Monash University and published in the International Journal of Obesity, examined whether a recently developed measure of anti-fat prejudice, the universal measure of bias (UMB), predicted actual obesity job discrimination.
The international research team also assessed whether people’s own body image, and dimensions of personality such as authoritarianism and social dominance orientation, were related to obesity discrimination.
Lead researcher, Dr Kerry O’Brien, from the School of Political and Social Inquiry, said the nature of the study was initially concealed from the participants to avoid biased results.
“Participants viewed a series of resumes that had a small photo of the supposed job applicant attached, and were asked to make ratings of the applicants’ suitability, starting salary and employability,” Dr O’Brien said.
“We used pictures of women pre-and post-bariatric surgery, and varied whether participants saw a resume that had a picture of an obese female attached, or the same female but in a normal weight range having undergone bariatric surgery.
“We found that obesity discrimination was displayed across all selection criteria, such as starting salary, leadership potential, and likelihood of selection for the job.”
The higher a participant’s score on the UMB, the more likely they were to discriminate against obese candidates.
Dr O’Brien and his colleague Janet Latner, from the University of Hawaii, said one of the interesting aspects of the findings was that the participants’ own body image was closely associated with obesity discrimination.
“The higher participants’ rated their own physical attractiveness and importance of physical appearance, the greater the anti-fat prejudice and discrimination,” Dr O’Brien said.
“One interpretation of this finding might be that we feel better about our own bodies if we compare ourselves to, and discriminate against, fatter people, but we need to test this experimentally.”
This study is the first to show a relationship between self-reported measures of obesity prejudice and actual obesity discrimination. The results suggest that a belief in the superiority of some individuals over others is related to the perception that obese individuals deserve fewer privileges and opportunities than non-fat individuals.
“Our findings show that there is a clear need to address obesity discrimination, particularly against females, who tend to bear the brunt of anti-fat prejudice. Prejudice reduction interventions and policies need to be developed,” Dr O’Brien said
“It’s also becoming clear that the reasons for this prejudice appear to be related to our personalities and how we feel about ourselves, with attributions, such as ‘obese people are lazy, gluttonous, etc’ merely acting as self-justifications for the prejudice.”