It only takes a modest weight gain for a woman to experience weight discrimination, but men can gain far more weight before experiencing similar bias, a new study shows.
The notion that society is less tolerant of weight gain in women than men is just one of the findings suggested by a new report from the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at Yale University, published this month in the International Journal of Obesity.
For the study, researchers documented the prevalence of self-reported weight discrimination and compared it to experiences of discrimination based on race and gender among a nationally representative sample of adults ages 25 to 74. The data was obtained from the National Survey of Midlife Development in the United States.
Overall, the study showed that weight discrimination, particularly against women, is as common as racial discrimination. But the researchers also identified the amount of weight gain that triggers a discriminatory backlash. They found that women appear to be at risk for discrimination at far lower weights, relative to their body size, than men.
Based on body mass index, which is a measure of body fat based on height and weight, a normal weight is in the range of 18.5 to 24.9. The study found that women begin to experience noticeable weight bias — such as problems at work or difficulty in personal relationships — when they reach a body mass index, or B.M.I., of 27. For a 5-foot-5-inch woman, that means discrimination starts once she reaches a weight of 162 pounds — or about 13 pounds more than her highest healthy weight, based on B.M.I. charts.
But the researchers found that men can bulk up far more without experiencing discrimination. Weight bias against men becomes noticeable when a man reaches a B.M.I. of 35 or higher. A 5-foot-9-inch man has a B.M.I. of 35 if he weighs 237 pounds — or 68 pounds above his highest healthy weight.
The study also revealed that women are twice as likely as men to report weight discrimination and that weight-related workplace bias and interpersonal mistreatment due to obesity are common. The researchers found that weight discrimination is more prevalent than discrimination based on sexual orientation, nationality or ethnicity, physical disability and religious beliefs.
“However, despite its high prevalence, it continues to remain socially acceptable,” said co-author Tatiana Andreyava, in a press release.
By Tara Parker-Pope
NY Times Well Blogs
March 31, 2008