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Last updated on April 18, 2014 at 17:24 EDT

Many Obese Americans Struggle With Stigma, Discrimination: Poll

August 23, 2012

NORWALK, Conn., Aug. 23, 2012 /PRNewswire/ — Many obese Americans say they face discrimination and stigma because of their weight, according to a new Harris Interactive/HealthDay poll released today. And the levels of stigma rise along with weight, and affect both people’s working and social lives.

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Fifty-two percent of people who fell into the “obese” or “morbidly obese” categories believe they have been discriminated against when applying for a job or promotion. And about two-fifths said they have been socially shunned, and 36 percent felt they’ve been discriminated against when being seated in theaters or restaurants.

Much of this discrimination may still be socially acceptable: According to the poll, a majority of people (61 percent) do not consider negative remarks about a person’s weight to be offensive.

The findings suggest that “the obesity epidemic is not just a huge health-care issue, it is also a social issue with many people, especially those who are morbidly obese — feeling that they have been stigmatized, treated unfairly, or discriminated against because of their weight,” said Humphrey Taylor, chairman of The Harris Poll. “This is not surprising when many people do not believe that it is very offensive to make critical remarks about people’s weight or for employers to use weight as a factor when deciding whom to hire,” he said.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the proportion of people who said they felt stigmatized because of their weight rose with their level of obesity. While 6 percent of people who classified themselves as overweight said they felt stigmatized, that number rose to 20 percent and 34 percent for people who were obese or morbidly obese, respectively.

Stigma affected the working lives of many respondents. Almost one in 10 overweight people said they believe their weight may have cost them a job or promotion, as did 17 percent of the obese and 35 percent of the morbidly obese.

Carrying excess weight may take a toll on social lives, too. For example, 22 percent of the morbidly obese said they felt they had been left out of social gatherings because of their weight, and a similar number said they had felt discriminated against while being seated at a theater or restaurant, or on a bus, train or plane.

The poll included 2,291 U.S adults over age 18 surveyed online between July 16 to 18, 2012 by Harris Interactive, one of the world’s leading custom market research firms. HealthDay is a leading producer and syndicator of health news.

The complete findings of the newest joint Harris Interactive/HealthDay poll are available here. HealthDay’s news report is available here. Full data on the poll and its methodology are available at Harris Interactive.

About HealthDay
HealthDay is a leading producer and syndicator of evidence-based health news for consumers and physicians and is one of the largest health news syndicators to Internet sites. Its daily consumer health news service http://consumer.healthday.com/ appears on more than 5,000 websites such as Yahoo!, MSN Health, USNews.com, Everyday Health, and government websites like Healthfinder.gov, and MedlinePlus. A daily video version of the top health news story of the day is featured on HealthDay TV, a 90-second daily news broadcast appearing on several major media and U.S. government websites.

HealthDay also produces Physician’s Briefing (www.physiciansbriefing.com), a daily news service for physicians and other medical professionals. This service is licensed to hospitals, managed care organizations, media companies, and point of care providers like Epocrates.

HealthDay’s custom content division produces specialized content for a variety of audiences and works with some of the larger health portals in the United States.

About Harris Interactive
Harris Interactive is one of the world’s leading custom market research firms, leveraging research, technology, and business acumen to transform relevant insight into actionable foresight. Known widely for the Harris Poll and for pioneering innovative research methodologies, Harris offers expertise in a wide range of industries including health care, technology, public affairs, energy, telecommunications, financial services, insurance, media, retail, restaurant, and consumer package goods. Serving clients in more than 215 countries and territories through our North American, European, and Asian offices and a network of independent market research firms, Harris specializes in delivering research solutions that help us – and our clients – stay ahead of what’s next. For more information, please visit www.harrisinteractive.com.

TABLE 1

HOW PEOPLE FEEL THEY HAVE BEEN TREATED BECAUSE OF THEIR WEIGHT

Q. How strongly do you agree or disagree with each of the following statements in regards to your weight during the past year?

Base: All adults

                                          BMI Assignment
                                          --------------
    Somewhat/Strongly Agree (Net)         Total Underweight  Normal Weight     Overweight         Obese         Morbidly Obese
    -----------------------------         ----- -----------  -------------     ----------         -----         --------------
                                              %              %          %                  %             %                   %
                                             ---            ---        ---                ---           ---                 ---
    I have felt stigmatized                       16             12         13                  6            20                  34
    -----------------------                      ---            ---        ---                ---           ---                 ---
    I have felt discriminated against
     when applying for a job or promotion         16              9         12                  9            17                  35
    -------------------------------------        ---            ---        ---                ---           ---                 ---
    I have been left out of social
     situations                                   13             15         11                  4            18                  22
    ------------------------------               ---            ---        ---                ---           ---                 ---
    I have felt discriminated against
     when being seated in a theater or
     restaurant                                   11             11          8                  4            15                  21
    ----------------------------------           ---            ---        ---                ---           ---                 ---
    I have been treated unfairly when
     being seated on a plane, bus or
     train                                        10             12         10                  4            10                  20
    ---------------------------------            ---            ---        ---                ---           ---                 ---

TABLE 1A – HOW OBESE PEOPLE FEEL THEY HAVE BEEN TREATED – BY AGE

Q. How strongly do you agree or disagree with each of the following statements in regards to your weight during the past year?

Base: Obese adults

    Somewhat/Strongly Agree (Net)         Total Obese Under 50 Obese 50-64 Obese 65+ Obese
    -----------------------------         ----------- -------------- ----------- ---------
                                                    %           %              %           %
                                                   ---         ---            ---         ---
    I have felt stigmatized                             20            26           12          19
    -----------------------                            ---           ---          ---         ---
    I have felt discriminated against
     when applying for a job or promotion               17            24            7          17
    -------------------------------------              ---           ---          ---         ---
    I have been left out of social
     situations                                         18            25           12           8
    ------------------------------                     ---           ---          ---         ---
    I have felt discriminated against
     when being seated in a theater or
     restaurant                                         15            24            3          10
    ----------------------------------                 ---           ---          ---         ---
    I have been treated unfairly when
     being seated on a plane, bus or
     train                                              10            14            2           7
    ---------------------------------                  ---           ---          ---         ---

TABLE 2

WHETHER CRITICAL REMARKS ABOUT AGE, RACE, WEIGHT AND SEXUAL ORIENTATION OFFENSIVE

Q. If you were in a social situation (e.g., a party, a dinner, event) and overheard a critical remark about someone’s [age, race, weight, sexual orientation], how offensive, if at all, would you consider this?

Base: All adults

                                       BMI Assignment
                                       --------------
    Extremely/Very Offensive
     (Net)                   Total       Underweight      Normal Weight     Overweight     Obese     Morbidly Obese
    ------------------------ -----       -----------      -------------     ----------     -----     --------------
                               %              %                 %               %            %              %
                              ---            ---               ---             ---          ---            ---
    Age                             28                 61                20             28        36                 22
    ---                            ---                ---               ---            ---       ---                ---
    Race                            61                 76                60             49        65                 80
    ----                           ---                ---               ---            ---       ---                ---
    Weight                          39                 32                34             36        40                 46
    ------                         ---                ---               ---            ---       ---                ---
    Sexual Orientation              41                 31                40             41        45                 36
    ------------------             ---                ---               ---            ---       ---                ---

TABLE 3

PERCEIVED FAIRNESS OF DECISIONS BY EMPLOYERS AND INSURERS BASED ON SMOKING AND WEIGHT

Q. Please indicate if you believe the following statements to be fair or unfair.

Base: All adults

                               BMI Assignment
                               --------------
    Fair                       Total  Underweight Normal Weight     Overweight     Obese     Morbidly Obese
    ----                       -----  ----------- -------------     ----------     -----     --------------
                                 %            %           %             %            %              %
                                ---          ---         ---           ---          ---            ---
    Insurance companies who
     charge higher premiums to
     those who smoke                  70              51         74             72        68                 70
    --------------------------       ---             ---        ---            ---       ---                ---
    Insurance companies who
     charge higher premiums to
     those who are overweight/
     obese                            51              60         59             55        48                 36
    --------------------------       ---             ---        ---            ---       ---                ---
    Employers who consider
     smoking as a factor when
     making hiring decisions          45              36         47             49        43                 39
    -------------------------        ---             ---        ---            ---       ---                ---
    Employers who consider
     weight as a factor when
     making hiring decisions          26              35         29             30        27                 14
    ------------------------         ---             ---        ---            ---       ---                ---

TABLE 4

BMI Assignment

Base: All adults

                                            Total
                                            -----
                                              %
                                             ---
    Underweight (BMI <18.5)                           2
    ----------------------                          ---
    Normal weight (18.5-<25)                         32
    -----------------------                         ---
    Overweight (25-<30)                              29
    ------------------                              ---
    Obese (30-<35)                                   17
    -------------                                   ---
    Morbidly Obese (35+)                             13
    -------------------                             ---
    Unknown                                           6
    -------                                         ---
    TOTAL                                           100
    -----                                           ---

Note: Percentages do not add up exactly to 100% due to rounding.

Methodology

This survey was conducted online within the United States July 16 to 18, 2012 among 2,291 adults (aged 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online.

All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, Harris Interactive avoids the words “margin of error” as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.

Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Interactive surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in the Harris Interactive panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

Full data available at www.harrisinteractive.com

The results of this Harris Poll may not be used in advertising, marketing or promotion without the prior written permission of Harris Interactive.

These statements conform to the principles of disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

Press Contacts:
Corporate Communications
Harris Interactive
212-539-9600
press@harrisinteractive.net

SOURCE Harris Interactive


Source: PR Newswire