It's hardly a surprise that people who are obese face considerable discrimination.
Whether seeking a new job, being in social situations, or applying for health coverage, the bias against overweight men and women can be hard to overcome. Research into weight bias has found a consistent tendency to view overweight people as being "lazier", less motivated, and more to blame for their weight compared to thinner individuals. This is especially true when obesity is regarded as something that can be easily controlled through willpower and making the "right" health decisions. As a result, this kind of bias often leads to more negative outcomes for many obese people, including lower employment rates, lower salaries, and lower educational achievement than their less-overweight counterparts.
But weight bias plays the strongest role in interpersonal relationships across the lifespan. Studies have found that even preschoolers are more likely to choose thin or average-size children to play with rather than overweight ones. As we grow and mature, overweight individuals often find themselves being at a disadvantage in dating and forming long-term relationships. In relationship surveys looking at college-age participants, overweight individuals are often less likely to be chosen as sexual partners when compared with those who are thinner or who even have other disabilities. In qualitative studies of middle-aged overweight individuals, the most upsetting comments about obesity tends to come from friends (followed closely by comments from parents, strangers, and spouses).
Sadly enough, this kind of weight bias also seems to extend to people who are formerly obese. One 2003 study into ratings of attractiveness showed that thin targets who are described as formerly obese tend to be rated as less attractive than targets for whom no weight history was provided. Other researchers looking at mate choices in undergraduates found that thin males are more likely to distance themselves from formerly obese individuals than overweight males. This appears to stem from the belief that the weight loss is only temporary and, as a result, leads to formerly obese people being regarded as less than ideal relationship choices.
To read more, check out my new Psychology Today blog post.