Technology & Science

Discrimination no joke: obesity forum

Obesity is one the last forms of discrimination that society readily accepts, and that's no laughing matter, a Canadian summit heard Monday.

Obesity is one the last forms of discrimination that society readily accepts, and that's no laughing matter, a Canadian summit heard Monday.

The Canadian Obesity Network, an advocacy group that organized the conference in Toronto, is considering calling for federal legislation that would make it illegal for employers to discriminate against overweight Canadians, a move the state of Michigan has made. 

The network brought together some of North America's  top obesity experts and people who struggle with weight issues in what the network says is the first Canadian conference to deal with weight bias and discrimination.

Summit participant David Dolomont said he weighs more than 300 pounds and has faced taunts and jokes about his excess weight since childhood.

"My mother would have to take me to that special store downtown to buy pants because I had to get into the so called 'husky size,' Dolomont recalled when he spoke about his experience at the conference.

The discrimination didn't end with adulthood when he started to work as a paramedic in Hamilton, he said.

Embarrassed by supervisor

Dolomont remembers feeling ashamed and embarrassed during a breakfast at work where he was singled out by a supervisor.

"He saw me and then come over right away and said, 'Hey David glad you're here.  We knew you were coming this morning so we asked them to put on a second cook and get some extra food in just because we knew you were going to be here today."

People who are overweight and obese often face discrimination at work, agreed Rebecca Puhl, a Canadian psychologist who is the director of research and weight stigma initiatives at the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University in New Haven, Conn., who was a keynote speaker at the conference.

"They face inequities in hiring practices," Puhl said. "They are less likely to get hired even if they have identical or even better qualifications than thin individuals."

There tends to be public perception that a little embarrassment may motivate people to lose weight, but it is not an effective motivator to change unhealthy behaviours, Puhl said.

Dolomont, who now teaches first aid and CPR, applauded the call for legislation but stressed every Canadian has a role to play in bucking the cultural norm and speaking up when they hear people saying things such as, 'Hey, big guy.' "