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Obesity discrimination: the role of physical appearance, personal ideology, and anti-fat prejudice



Self-report measures of anti-fat prejudice are regularly used by the field, however, there is no research showing a relationship between explicit measures of anti-fat prejudice and the behavioral manifestation of them; obesity discrimination. The present study examined whether a recently developed measure of anti-fat prejudice, the universal measure of bias (UMB), along with other correlates of prejudicial attitudes and beliefs (that is, authoritarianism, social dominance orientation; SDO, physical appearance investment) predict obesity discrimination.


Under the guise of a personnel selection task, participants (n=102) gave assessments of obese and non-obese females applying for a managerial position across a number of selection criteria (for example, starting salary, likelihood of selecting). Participants viewed resumes that had attached either a photo of a pre-bariatric surgery obese female (body mass index (BMI)=38–41) or a photo of the same female post-bariatric surgery (BMI=22–24). Participants also completed measures of anti-fat prejudice (UMB) authoritarianism, SDO, physical appearance evaluation and orientation.


Obesity discrimination was displayed across all selection criteria. Higher UMB subscale scores (distance and negative judgement), authoritarianism, physical appearance evaluation and orientation were associated with greater obesity discrimination. In regression models, UMB ‘distance’ was a predictor of obesity discrimination for perceived leadership potential, starting salary, and overall employability. UMB ‘negative judgement’ predicted discrimination for starting salary; and authoritarianism predicted likelihood of selecting an obese applicant and candidate ranking. Finally, physical appearance evaluation and appearance orientation predicted obesity discrimination for predicted career success and leadership potential, respectively.


Self-report measures of prejudice act as surrogates for discrimination, but there has been no empirical support for the validity of explicit measures of anti-fat prejudice. Here, the UMB, authoritarianism, and physical appearance investment predicted obesity discrimination. The present results provide support for the use of these measures by researchers seeking to assess, understand, and reduce anti-fat prejudice and discrimination.

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We thank the anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments and suggestions for improving the paper.

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Correspondence to K S O'Brien.

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O'Brien, K., Latner, J., Ebneter, D. et al. Obesity discrimination: the role of physical appearance, personal ideology, and anti-fat prejudice. Int J Obes 37, 455–460 (2013).

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  • anti-fat prejudice
  • obesity discrimination
  • body image
  • authoritarianism
  • anti-fat
  • stigma

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