Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Fat chance of a job?

A survey suggests that recruiters for many companies would discriminate against obese people simply because they are overweight. Given the hysteria about obesity, is anyone surprised?

Personnel Today surveyed more than 2,000 human resources (HR) professionals. Almost half of respondents said that obesity negatively affects employee output. A third thought obesity was a valid medical reason for not employing someone in the first place, while 11 per cent wrongly thought that firms could sack people just for being obese. Above all, given two people with equal qualifications for a job, 93 per cent would employ a thin person over an obese person.

However, this is not simply prejudice based on ignorance. It is the logical consequence of a climate in which those who are obese are automatically assumed to be chronically ill with every chance of keeling over from a heart attack. What employer would want to take a chance on such a person? Moreover, health professionals and government campaigns constantly tell us that obesity is always caused by excessive eating and a total lack of exercise. So employers may feel entirely justified in viewing a fat candidate as lazy, feckless and devoid of self-control.

This is not to suggest that this kind of discrimination is remotely on a par with the racial and sexual oppression of the past, as some campaigners have suggested. 'Being fat' is not a human right. What the survey does illustrate is the potential for harm caused by the excessive zeal for public health and behaviour modification - harm which might not be the aim of these campaigns, but is nonetheless a real consequence.

The obsession with body-shape is unnecessary because the risks are generally overstated and the most common solution - dieting - is usually a failure. The fanaticism about weight expresses itself in myriad forms unrelated to health, from depressing but petty prejudice through to difficulties getting a job, parents having their children taken into care and even locking-up one fat man as mentally ill. The damage done by the war on obesity surely outweighs the benefits.

Fattism is the last bastion of employee discrimination, Personnel Today, 25 October 2005

The Obesity Myth, by Paul Campos


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