Healthy body weight: workplace health

Workplaces should promote acceptance of all body types, shapes and sizes. Weight bias can affect hiring practices, wages, promotions, and employment dismissals.

Workplace interventions for weight

Workplace wellness interventions are designed to improve employee health and to reduce health insurance costs. Obesity prevention is a top pick for many wellness programs.

Obesity has been linked to many costly and chronic diseases such as high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes, and some cancers. However, ongoing research has shown that the relationships between obesity, health and disease are more difficult to understand than the public has been led to believe.

As obesity rates have climbed in Canada so have the pressures to be thin. Societal pressures for the “ideal body shape” reinforce myths that thinness is healthy, within reach and possible for all. This has resulted in a fear of weight gain and unhealthy weight control behaviours.

Bottom line: There is no simple fix

Obesity is a chronic and relapsing condition that requires long-term follow-up for most people. Although a variety of interventions can result in short-term weight loss, only a very small percentage of individuals will see significant weight loss over the long-term.

Unfortunately, when a person is unable to lose weight or maintain weight loss, it remains socially acceptable to blame the individual, their food choices and their activity levels for that failure.

This ignores the growing evidence that the socioeconomic environments in which people live, work and play influence their weight and their health.

What is weight bias and weight discrimination?

Weight bias refers to negative weight-related attitudes, beliefs and judgments toward individuals affected by excess weight or obesity. For example, people affected by excess weight or obesity are often viewed as less competent, lazy and undisciplined.

Weight discrimination is more than having negative attitudes: it can include acting or behaving unfairly or unequally towards people with excess weight. Discriminatory actions can range from saying hurtful things to avoiding, ignoring, or rejecting an individual, as well as making derogatory remarks, engaging in cyber-bullying or physically attacking someone.

What are the consequences of weight bias and weight discrimination in the workplace?

The 2012 Rudd Center’s Report: Weight Bias, a Social Justice Issue, Policy Brief, observed weight bias and discrimination in the following areas:

The heavier the person, the more vulnerable they are to unfair treatment or discrimination because of their weight. To date, there are few legal options available to individuals who suffer from weight discrimination. Everyone deserves a fair and safe workplace environment and the new national voluntary standard, Psychological Safety in the Workplace offers a promising start in the right direction.

Key strategies to address weight in the workplace are to:

Weight discrimination is on the rise

Individuals affected by overweight and obesity are vulnerable to weight bias, discrimination and unfair treatment. Weight bias and discrimination are rarely challenged and pose a significant threat to population health and well-being.

The Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity examined trends of weight discrimination in the general population from 1995 to 2005. In that 10 year period, they reported a 66% increase in the prevalence of weight discrimination, meaning that discrimination became more widespread.

In the workplace

The 2012 Rudd Report on weight bias found that 43% of people reported that they had experienced weight bias from employers and supervisors and 53% experienced weight bias from co-workers. Weight bias and discrimination reduces the quality of life for employees with excess weight or obesity and can lead to blame and intolerance.

For example, when people with excess weight are singled out and offered unsolicited nutritional advice, it can be harmful to their mental health and well-being. Even though the advice may be well-intentioned, it is often based on assumptions that reflect weight biases held by the person giving the advice. Rather than motivating self-care, weight bias and discrimination has been shown to result in:

What can you do if you experience weight discrimination at work?

What can your workplace do about weight bias and discrimination?

For more information:

To learn more about the programs available contact the Health Unit’s Workplace Health Team at 705.522.9200, ext. 290 or toll-free at 1.866.522.9200.

Helpful Resources:

Healthy weights. Does the workplace have a role?

Weight Bias in the Workplace – Information for Employers (Obesity Action Coalition)

National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace (Mental Health Commission of Canada)

Canadian Obesity Network

Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity

References:


This item was last modified on April 30, 2020