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Many Obese Americans Struggle With Stigma, Discrimination: Poll

As levels of overweight rise, more say they've been left out of gatherings or passed over for jobs


NORWALK, Conn., USA – August 23, 2012 – 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.

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.

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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.

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