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Overweight Women Face Big Challenges at Work

Overweight Women Face Big Challenges at Work
Credit: Sedlacek/Shutterstock

Being overweight in the workplace is tougher on women than on men, new research finds.

Overweight women are more likely to make less money, work in more physically demanding jobs, and have less interaction with customers than average-size women and all men, including those who are also overweight, according to a Vanderbilt University study.

“Starting when a woman becomes overweight, she is increasingly less likely to work in a personal interaction or personal communication occupation," Jennifer Shinall, assistant professor of law at Vanderbilt Law School and the study's author, said in a statement.

The study defines personal interaction jobs as those where the employee works closely with the customer, such as a salesperson, customer service representative or receptionist, while physically demanding positions are those in fields such as health care support, health care practitioners, food preparation and child care.

Even if heavier women are able to land a job interacting with customers, there is still a price to pay, Shinall said. [Workplace Weight Loss Programs Work ]

"A morbidly obese woman working in an occupation with an emphasis on personal interaction will earn almost 5 percent less than a normal-weight woman working in an occupation with exactly the same emphasis," Shinall said.

Men, however, aren't suffering from these same consequences, Shinall said.

“No matter what the type of occupation, obese men seem to do just as well as average-size men," Shinall said. "They make just as much as non-obese men and make just as much money in both personal interaction occupations and physical occupations."

While there has been a lot of discussion on whether an obese individual is considered disabled in regards to the Americans with Disabilities Act, Shinall suggests that when it comes to discrimination lawsuits, the ADA may not be the correct avenue since obese women are actually filling strenuous physical labor jobs.

"What seems to be going on in the labor market may be more of a sex discrimination issue that could be tied to Title VII," she said.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits sex discrimination in employment.
Shinall, whose paper is under review for publication, used matched data from the Current Population Survey, American Time Use Survey's Eating and Health Module and the Occupational Information Network for her research.

Originally published on Business News Daily.

Chad Brooks

Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based writer who has nearly 15 years' experience in the media business. A graduate of Indiana University, he spent nearly a decade as a staff reporter for the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, covering a wide array of topics including, local and state government, crime, the legal system and education. Following his years at the newspaper Chad worked in public relations, helping promote small businesses throughout the U.S. Follow him on Twitter.