Rebecca Puhl is the director of research at the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at Yale. The Rudd Center is pro-weight loss, which can be disconcerting to run across on their website. Nonetheless, they do useful research on weight discrimination and health, not to mention writing articles for CNN on how weight discrimination affects the news coverage of NJ Gov Chris Christie.
How common is [weight discrimination]? It may seem less significant compared with discrimination on the basis of gender or race, but it is rapidly increasing and no less important. Research shows that weight discrimination in the United States has increased by 66% over the past decade. It is now the third-most common type of discrimination reported by women, and the fourth most common among men. Recent estimates even show that weight discrimination is comparable to prevalence rates of racial discrimination.
Weight discrimination is especially common in the jobs setting. Decades of research have shown that overweight and obese employees are much less likely to be hired than thinner employees (even with identical, or better qualifications), they receive lower wages, are less likely to be promoted and are more likely to be fired from their jobs, compared with thinner employees.
Criticism of Christie’s weight suggests this prejudice exists even if the job under consideration is at the highest levels of government — and it isn’t the first time. Surgeon General Dr. Regina Benjamin’s excess weight was publicly censured and critiqued in the media discussion over her appointment, often eclipsing consideration of her impressive credentials, awards and accomplishments. […]
Dr Puhl also attacks the “but what about his health” worries:
We cannot make assumptions about Christie’s health status, let alone the health status of other thinner political candidates. There are many overweight individuals who eat a balanced diet and exercise regularly; there are many thin individuals who smoke cigarettes, drink too much alcohol, eat poorly, have high blood pressure and are sedentary. Being thin is not an automatic indicator of health, and neither is being overweight. If Christie’s health status is to be scrutinized, then the health status of his political peers should be scrutinized as well.
To be clear: There is no reason to assume that a person can’t be an effective political leader simply because of his or her body weight. Discounting an individual’s credentials, training, abilities or accomplishments because of body weight is discriminatory. And it communicates an unfair, harmful message that a person’s talents and contributions to society have lesser value if that person is obese.
As a bonus, I was pleased to see that Dr Puhl did NOT say anything about whether Gov Christie should attempt weight loss — quite refreshing in an article of this type. Whether an individual, including Gov Christie, chooses to attempt something as risky as weight loss is nobody else’s business.
(Even if Gov Christie attempted weight loss, he would not necessarily have immediate or noticeable results, so guess what? Other people might not notice … and again, it’s not any of their business. )