Weight bias in work settings - a qualitative review

Obes Facts. 2010 Feb;3(1):33-40. doi: 10.1159/000276992. Epub 2010 Feb 11.


Background: Studies have repeatedly demonstrated the influence of physical appearance on behavior and treatment of individuals in work settings. A high proportion of obese individuals in the USA have reported perceived discrimination in the work place due to their body weight. The present review examines the specific kind, context and extent of a weight bias in work settings.

Methods: We performed a literature search in the scientific databases PubMed and PsychINFO to identify studies which have investigated aspects of a potential weight bias in the occupational context.

Results: There is evidence from self-report data, surveys, and laboratory research for a weight bias in five aspects of work life. Evidence shows that obesity is a general barrier to employment, certain professions and professional success. Obese individuals are at higher risk of encountering stereotypes concerning their work-related qualities and for general unequal treatment in the work place.

Conclusion: Current evidence reveals a weight bias in several areas in the work place. The ecological validity of results is limited due to the predominant reliance on laboratory studies with student samples. Field studies are needed to examine weight-based discrimination in actual work environments as well as to uncover underlying mechanisms.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Body Weight* / physiology
  • Employment / psychology
  • Employment / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Obesity / psychology
  • Overweight / psychology
  • Prejudice*
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Stereotyping
  • Workplace / psychology*