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Persons with obesity are frequently the victims of discrimination. Obesity is often described as the last 'acceptable' form of discrimination based on physical appearances.
  Peer rejection, taunting and harsh treatment by peers is a frequent anecdote among overweight persons.

A 1994 National Education Association Report on Discrimination Due to Physical Size stated, "For fat students, the school experience is one of ongoing prejudice, unnoticed discrimination, and almost constant harassment," and "from nursery school through college, fat students experience ostracism, discouragement, and sometime violence."

In a 1960s study, researchers used pictures to determine children's perceptions of varying disabilities. Six pictures were used representing a child: with crutches, in a wheelchair, with an amputated hand, with a facial disfigurement, and an overweight child. The overweight child was chosen as the least desirable friend by a majority of school children examining the picture.

  • Reference: Richardson SA, Goodman N, Hastorf AH, Dornbusch SM. Cultural uniformity in reaction to physical disabilities. Am Sociol Rev. 1961:241-7.

Results from a recent study show an increase in bias compared with the study 40 years ago. Researcher Janet Latner repeated the 1960s study, and presenting her findings at the third annual AOA Conference on Obesity and Public Policy. Latner reported that her study among fifth and sixth graders again showed the strongest bias against the obese child.

Many other studies have supported the finding of bias against peers.

In a study of adolescent overweight girls, 96 percent reported perceived negative experiences because of their weight, including hurtful comments, weight-related teasing, jokes and derogatory names. Many reported being teased continually from elementary school to high school.

Research of women with obesity has indicated a relationship between frequent teasing during childhood and negative self-perceptions of attractiveness and greater body dissatisfaction in adulthood. Many studies have looked at the psychological and social consequences of negative experiences including lower self-esteem. In a study of overweight children, self-esteem was lowest in those who believed that they were responsible for their overweight and who believed that weight was the reason for few friends and exclusion from games and sports. Ninety-one percent felt ashamed of being fat, 90 percent believed that teasing and humiliation from peers would stop if they lost weight, and 69 percent believed that they would have more friends if they lost weight. Things are not better in higher education, including evidence of a reliable pattern between Body Mass Index (BMI) and financial support for schooling. Results from one study show that normal weight students received more family financial support for college than did overweight students who depended more on financial aid and jobs. This was especially pronounced among women. Differences in family support remained after controlling for the parent's education, income, ethnicity and family size.
  • Reference: Crandall CS. Do heavy-weight students have more difficulty paying for college? Pers Soc Psych Bulletin. 1991;17:606-11.

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