Weight Bias & Stigma > Policy Makers
Currently, there are no federal laws in the United States that prohibit weight discrimination in the workplace, and Michigan is the only state that has passed a state law that protects people from weight discrimination.
Michigan’s law, known as the Elliot Larson’s Civil Rights Act, includes body weight in the list of protected categories such as race, age, and sexuality. In the past decade, Massachusetts has repeatedly tried to pass a similar state law to prohibit weight discrimination, most recently in 2019 with a bill proposed in both the House and the Senate that would make it illegal to discriminate on the basis of weight in employment, housing, and public accomodations. A 2019 opinion piece in The Washington Post by the Rudd Center’s Deputy Director, Dr. Rebecca Puhl, further highlights key issues relevant to this legislation.
In the meantime, increasing cities across the U.S. have begun implementing legislation at the local level. Localities including Binghamton (New York), Madison (Wisconsin), San Francisco and Santa Cruz (California), Washington (District of Columbia), and Urbana (Illinois) have passed local laws prohibiting weight discrimination. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) also provides some legal protection against discrimination to people with ‘severe obesity’ whose weight is disabling or perceived to be a disability by others, but many people who experience weight discrimination do not have ‘severe obesity’ and are not disabled by their weight. Thus, while these efforts reflect an important first step, the vast majority of Americans have no legal protections or recourse if they face weight discrimination.
This Rudd Center policy brief covers the consequences of bias in employment, health care and education; provides citations for important studies; suggests responses to common arguments against the need for policies to address weight bias; and discusses current law, and policy recommendations.
Policies are also needed to help reduce weight-based bullying in youth. Children and adolescents are frequent targets of victimization and harassment because of their weight. Although most states in the U.S. have anti-bullying laws to help protect youth against bullying, only three state laws (Maine, New Hampshire, and New York) include ‘body weight’ or ‘physical appearance’ as characteristics that place youth at risk for being bullied. Given that weight-based bullying is one of the most prevalent forms of bullying in the school setting, it is important to advocate for the enumeration of ‘body weight’ in anti-bullying policies and laws to more comprehensively protect youth with overweight or obesity who are frequent targets of harassment.
Rudd Center research shows that there is substantial public support (especially from parents) to strengthen existing anti-bullying school policies and state laws, by including body weight as a characteristic that places youth at risk for bullying.
View our resources on Enumeration of Weight in Anti-bullying Policies and Model School-Based Anti-Bullying Policy to learn more about the importance of including body weight in anti-bullying legislation, as well as key components that should be included in school-based anti-bullying policies.