Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Legislating for weight-based equality: national trends in public support for laws to prohibit weight discrimination


The prevalence of weight discrimination in the United States has led to increasing calls for legal measures to address weight-based inequities on a broader scale. This study examined public support in 2014 and 2015 for three proposed laws prohibiting weight discrimination, and compared findings with public attitudes towards the same laws from 2011 to 2013. An online survey was completed by a diverse national sample of US adults (N=2411) in June–July of 2014 and 2015 to assess their support for anti-discrimination legislation. Public support increased for the anti-discrimination laws from 2014 to 2015, and at least 71% of participants expressed support for each of the laws in both years. Compared with public support documented in 2011–2013, there was a significant increase in support in 2014–2015 for legislation to extend disability protections to individuals with obesity and for laws that would include body weight in existing state civil rights statutes. Consistently, high levels of support (78%) were documented across this 5-year period for laws to address weight-based discrimination in employment. As public approval is a powerful catalyst motivating political will needed to make policy changes, these findings provide important insights and implications for advancing policy-level discourse about remedies for weight discrimination.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Access options

Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.


  1. Puhl RM, Heuer CA . The stigma of obesity: a review and update. Obesity 2009; 17: 941–964.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Puhl RM, Andreyeva T, Brownell KD . Perceptions of weight discrimination: prevalence and comparison to race and gender discrimination in America. Int J Obes 2008; 32: 992–1000.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  3. Roehling MV, Roehling PV, Odland M . Investigating the validity of stereotypes about overweight employees: The relationship between body weight and normal personality traits. Group Organization Management 2008; 33: 392–424.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Rudolph CW, Wells CL, Weller MD, Baltes BB . A meta-analysis of empirical studies of weight-based bias in the workplace. J Vocat Behav 2009; 74: 1–10.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Roehling MV, Pichler S, Bruce TA . Moderators of the effect of weight on job-related outcomes: a meta-analysis of experimental studies. J Appl Soc Psychol 2013; 43: 237–252.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Andreyeva T, Puhl RM, Brownell KD . Changes in perceived weight discrimination among Americans: 1995-1996 through 2004-2006. Obesity 2008; 16: 1129–1134.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Pomeranz JL . A historical analysis of public health, the law, and stigmatized social groups: the need for both obesity and weight bias legislation. Obesity 2008; 16: S93–S102.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. (2015). US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Available at Accessed on 30 October 2015.

  9. Pomeranz JL, Puhl RM . New developments in the law for obesity discrimination protection. Obesity 2013; 21: 469–471.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Quinn C . State house news—committee backs bill adding height, weight to antidiscrimination law. October, 2013. Available at Accessed on 3 November 2015.

  11. Mello MM, Wood J, Burris S, Wagenaar AC, Ibrahim JK, Swanson JW . Critical opportunities for public health law: a call for action. Am J Public Health 2013; 103: 1979–1988.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Lusk JL, Ellison B . Who is to blame for the rise in obesity? Appetite 2013; 68: 14–20.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Bleich S, Blendon RJ . Public opinion and obesity. In: Blendon RJ, Brodie M, Benson JM, Altman DE (eds). American Public Opinion and Health Care. CQ Press: Washington, DC, USA, 2011.

    Google Scholar 

  14. Morain S, Mello MM . Survey finds public support for legal interventions directed at health behavior to fight noncommunicable disease. Health Aff (Millwood) 2013; 32: 486–496.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Donaldson EA, Cohen JE, Villanti AC, Kanarek NF, Barry CL, Rutkow L . Patterns and predictors of state adult obesity prevention legislation enactment in US states: 2010–2013. Prev Med 2015; 74: 117–122.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Suh Y, Puhl R, Liu S, Fleming Milici F . Support for laws to prohibit weight discrimination in the united states: Public attitudes from 2011 to 2013. Obesity 2014; 22: 1872–1879.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Harris J. F-MF, Sarda V, Schwartz M . Food marketing to children and adolescents: What do parents think? Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity 2012. Available at

  18. Puhl RM, Heuer CA . Public opinion about laws to prohibit weight discrimination in the United States. Obesity 2011; 19: 74–82.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Barry CL, Brescoll VL, Brownell KD, Schlesinger M . Obesity metaphors: how beliefs about the causes of obesity affect support for public policy. Milbank Q 2009; 87: 7–47.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. StataCorp. 2013. Stata Statistical Software: Release 13. StataCorp LP: College Station, TX, USA.

  21. Pollack A . AMA recognizes obesity as a disease. New York Times. 2013; Sect. Business Day. Available at Accessed on 5 November 2015.

  22. Puhl RM, Liu S . A national survey of public views about the classification of obesity as a disease. Obesity 2015; 23: 1288–1295.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


This research was funded by a donation from the Rudd Foundation and a grant by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to R M Puhl.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Puhl, R., Suh, Y. & Li, X. Legislating for weight-based equality: national trends in public support for laws to prohibit weight discrimination. Int J Obes 40, 1320–1324 (2016).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Revised:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

This article is cited by


Quick links