July 12, 2023
One of the most fundamental ways that we can enshrine our values is to create policy that manifests those values. Anti-discrimination policies are common place, and over the years the protections have grown as we become more aware of how discrimination operates for people with various identities and positions in society. As an example, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission says:
Under the laws enforced by EEOC, it is illegal to discriminate against someone (applicant or employee) because of that person’s race, color, religion, sex (including gender identity, sexual orientation, and pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information.
According to the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries,
Fair housing is the right to choose and live in a home free from unlawful discrimination. Oregon’s laws protect people from being treated differently because of your: race, color, religion, sex, national origin, whether or not you have kids, disability (also: source of income, domestic violence survivors, marital status, sexual orientation, and gender identity).
Workplace and other discrimination against people in larger bodies is well documented (see for example: Burmeister et al., 2013; Escalera, 2009; Kinzel, 2014; O’Hara & Gregg, 2012), yet few jurisdictions in the U.S. include body size in their policies. There is increasing awareness of the issue, as highlighted in the coverage of the New York City law passed in 2023 (Fitzsimmons, 2023). In 2012, O’Hara & Gregg outlined how 13 of the 30 rights in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are violated for people in larger bodies. They wrote: “Public health researchers and practitioners may inadvertently breach their human rights obligations by working within the weight-centered health paradigm.”
Additionally, as a university instructors, we are asked to consider principles of universal design in our teaching, which helps to create access and participation for the most people. Consider this description from the Centre for Excellence in Universal Design:
Universal Design is the design and composition of an environment so that it can be accessed, understood and used to the greatest extent possible by all people regardless of their age, size, ability or disability. An environment (or any building, product, or service in that environment) should be designed to meet the needs of all people who wish to use it. This is not a special requirement, for the benefit of only a minority of the population. It is a fundamental condition of good design. If an environment is accessible, usable, convenient and a pleasure to use, everyone benefits. By considering the diverse needs and abilities of all throughout the design process, universal design creates products, services and environments that meet peoples’ needs. Simply put, universal design is good design. (emphasis added)
Commitment to inclusion, access and human rights, requires that our policies reflect and codify that commitment, including for people in all body sizes. Here are some places to start at the institutional and organizational level:
- Any and all anti-discrimination and anti-oppression policies or statements should explicitly include body size.
- Employee “wellness” programs should be prohibited from promoting weight-loss programs or rewarding participation in weight loss through discounts or other benefits. Not only are these programs able-ist, they can also be triggers for eating disorders and body dysmorphia issues, and stigmatize those in larger bodies at their place of employment.
- If your organization sells clothing, or uses a vendor for branded clothing, require all sizes of an item to be the same price. Don’t require people in larger bodies to have to pay a higher price than those wearing smaller sizes, a so-called “fat tax” (Malinsky, 2019).
- Require all employees to complete online training modules about weight bias, or include weight bias in other required anti-bias training. This should especially include those in positions that influence screening and hiring decisions.
By taking these steps, we can make our organizations more accessible and inclusive of people in all types of bodies, and act as role-models for raising awareness of these issues. It also helps to prepare our organizations for advocating on local, state and national policies to prevent discrimination against people in larger bodies.
Thanks to the OHSU-PSU School of Public Health’s Fat Justice Journal Club for discussions and advocacy on weight-inclusive policy that helped to shape this article.