UConn study: Public supports laws against weight discrimination

There's broad public support for government policies and laws against weight discrimination in four nations where this form of bias is prevalent, according to a new multinational study by the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at the University of Connecticut.

The findings of the study, suggest that a key condition needed to foster policy change – strong public support – is present in the United States and three other countries surveyed: Canada, Iceland, and Australia. The countries were selected for their comparable rates of adult overweight and obesity, as well as similarities in sociocultural values of thinness, parliamentary or congressional democracies, and other societal factors.

"As these countries offer little or no protection for people who experience weight discrimination, we hope that our findings will stimulate policy discourse about remedies to address these inequities on a broader level," Rebecca Puhl, the study's lead author, professor in UConn's Department of Human Development and Family Studies, and deputy director of the Rudd Center, said in a UCOnn Today news release.

Public support was strongest for workplace laws that would prohibit employers from discriminating against people based on their weight status, the study showed. The greatest support came from heavier women and individuals.

The study, which surveyed 2,866 adults between February and July 2013, is the first to examine public support in multiple countries for government legal measures to address weight discrimination, according to the release.

Specific findings include:

- At least two-thirds of adults across the four countries expressed support for laws that would make it illegal for employers to refuse to hire, assign lower wages, deny promotions, or terminate qualified employees because of body weight.

- Majorities of respondents in the U.S., Canada, and Australia expressed support for adding anti-weight discrimination measures to existing human rights laws.

- Proposed laws that received the least support were those that would consider obesity as a disability and extend disability protections to individuals with obesity.

Study co-authors include Janet D. Latner of the University of Hawaii at Manoa; Kerry O'Brien of Monash University in Melbourne, Australia; Joerg Luedicke of the Rudd Center; Sigrun Danielsdottir of the Directorate of Health in Reykjavik, Iceland; and Ximena Ramos Salas of the Canadian Obesity Network.

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