Weight-based discrimination and weight bias

A bias is an attitude or belief that we have about something or someone, which often results in treating others unfairly.

What is weight bias?

Weight bias refers to negative stereotypes toward individuals affected by excess weight or obesity, which often leads to prejudice and discrimination. Common biases based on weight include the belief that people affected by excess weight or obesity are lazy, weak-willed, unsuccessful, unintelligent, lack self-discipline, have poor willpower and are non-compliant.

Where does weight bias come from?

Negative attitudes toward people affected by obesity are widespread in North American society. We live in a culture that is bombarded by media, and this media often values and promotes an unrealistic ideal of thinness and muscularity.

In addition, the causes of obesity are misunderstood and attributed only to personal behaviour and choices. This leads to an increase in weight bias because people who are affected by excess weight and obesity are often “blamed” for it. In reality, weight is the result of a very complicated set of factors, including our genes, our environment, our economy, our society and our personal behaviours.

Where do we see weight bias?

Negative attitudes toward people affected by excess weight and obesity lead to prejudice and unfair treatment in many aspects of day to day life, including:

What are the consequences of weight bias?

Weight bias promotes blame and intolerance, which reduces the quality of life for people who are affected by excess weight and obesity. Individuals who experience weight bias or discrimination are at an increased risk for:

Negative psychological outcomes, such as:

Negative social consequences, including:

Negative physical health outcomes, such as:

How can we reduce weight bias?

For more information about weight bias, contact the Health Unit at 705.522.9200 or toll free at 1.866.522.9200.


Puhl, R. & Heuer, C. (2009). The Stigma of Obesity: A Review and Update. Obesity. doi:10.1038/oby.2008.636

Obesity Action Coalition (2013). Understanding Obesity and Stigma. Retrieved from http://www.obesityaction.org/wp-content/uploads/Understanding-Obesity-Stigma.pdf on November 17, 2016.

Puhl, R. (n.d.). Weight Bias [PowePoint slides]. Retrieved from http://yaleruddcenter.org/resources/upload/docs/what/bias/WeightBias.pdf on August 13, 2014.

Puhl, R. & Heuer, C. (2010). Obesity Stigma: Important Considerations for Public Health. American Journal of Public Health, 100 (6), 1019-1028

This item was last modified on February 28, 2017

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